My favorite book of the last few years is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. (and I also enjoyed Blink and his first, The Tipping Point). One of my favorite blogs is Seth Godin’s blog. I very much liked The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, and already have scheduled “Free” by Chris Anderson in the fall for the First Friday Book Synopsis. So — what a delicious surprise that they are in a spat.
Here’s the story. Gladwell reviewed Anderson’s new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price for The New Yorker. (Read his review here). He takes issue with the ultimate outcome projected by Anderson – that the future for writers (and others) is in the realm of “free.” Godin fires: “Malcolm is Wrong.” (Read his post here). And then Chris Anderson weighs in with “Dear Malcolm: Why so threatened?” disagreeing with Gladwell’s conclusions. (Read his defense here).
So, who is right? They all are. And therein lies the problem.
Godin argues this:
The first argument that makes no sense is, “should we want free to be the future?” Who cares if we want it? It is. The second argument that makes no sense is, “how will this new business model support the world as we know it today?” Who cares if it does? It is. It’s happening. The world will change around it, because the world has no choice. I’m sorry if that’s inconvenient, but it’s true.
Of course, we prefer the content free. And once it is free, we do not want (will refuse to?) pay for it. And because so very many are now in the content producing business, there will be good content available to choose from.
But how will people make a living – you know, pay for living, like house payments and food costs? That is the question. One, by the way, that is revealed at the most basic level in this spat: Gladwell was paid for writing his review, which is available in the paid for copies of The New Yorker, but free on the web site, and Anderson makes money from the sales of his books touting “free” to all of his cash-paying readers. And though Godin’s blog is free, he uses that as a key piece of his “Hey, notice me, and hire me for something because of my expertise” marketing plan. (a plan I wholeheartedly endorse).
Somebody has to help folks pay the bills. Because, ultimately, there is some free, but not everything can be free.
Now Anderson argues (I think — I have not yet read the book) that free leads to income in some form or another. I hope so!
(Personal: as usual, Gladwell’s piece is the best written. What a writer! But — I don’t yet know how to really think about all of this. These are just my thoughts so far.)