UPDATED 16:09 EDT / JULY 01 2009

Dear Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Chris Anderson: You are All Right about “Free”. Now Shut Up.

“In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”
–CHRIS ANDERSON

image
Are you kidding me? “Free” with a capital F? What are you, Effing Jesus?

Chris Anderson seriously needs to slow down. I saw him at South by Southwest  and felt his “content should be free” shtick was more of a marketing ploy to push his book than genuine advice to help people build a business model. It was very disappointing, and at this point, I’m not sure his free book is worth the time it takes to read.

Well, Malcolm Gladwell wrote this New Yorker article stating that when you give something for free, people assume it has no value. He pointed to YouTube, which has yet to make money for Google. Okay.

THEN Seth Godin jumped on the Free (note the capital F so as to not offend Chris Anderson) bandwagon and went on an ad hominem attack stating that Anderson’s Wired is making money with free, while the New Yorker, who Gladwell writes for, is not. Apparently, free gets people’s attention in an A.D.D. world.

Guess what? You are all right. Now shut up.

image Chris Anderson. You need to appreciate that not all people want their content to be the same as everyone else’s. When things are free for everyone, we do not have that choice. The Wall Street Journal will ALWAYS be able to charge people for content, so long as that content provides their readers with a competitive advantage for their jobs. If money is an exclusive barrier that makes subscribers part of a club others can’t afford, they’ll pay for it. People like the exclusivity that money affords them. Just ask the people who actually venture to TED to see you. If it makes me money, saves me more time, or makes me happier than what I can get for free, charge me money. Apple does it and it works just splendidly for them.

image Malcolm Gladwell. You need to acknowledge that the web crashes barriers. Web hosting is DISGUSTINGLY CHEAP unlike print. The best thing the New Yorker could do to preserve itself is to kill its presses, go web-based, and hire bloggers who fit their style. As soon as you launch a paid subscription, someone else will come up with a cheaper or free subscription with something similar, and it can be just as good and paid for by ads. Maybe they’ll even go user generated and just hire some editor who is brilliant but lives in his mom’s basement. Seth is right. You need to learn to leverage the web better.

image Seth Godin. “In a world of free, everyone can play.” True, but not everyone can win, or even stay afloat. Free IS a relatively cheap way to get attention, but not always able to keep that attention. People want content to do certain things for them. If the free stuff doesn’t do it, they’ll pay for something else.

Oh, and don’t tell me that free is the future and then blog using TypePad instead of the superior AND free WordPress. Seriously. Software is code, and code is content too.

Free content can suck. Proprietary content can suck. Just don’t suck at delivering the content that your current and potential readers want and you are okay. I feel like I’m watching a bunch of kids throw sand in each other’s faces in the playground.

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published at Michelle Greer’s personal blog, and is re-published here with permission. I had originally intended to comment on this emergent and interesting discussion on “Free,” but Michelle said it much better than I could. You can read more from Michelle’s commentary on Austin tech at her blog. – mrh]


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