First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Chris Anderson on “How to Give a Killer Presentation”

Anderson, TEDHere is an excerpt from an article written by Chris Anderson for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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A little more than a year ago, on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, some colleagues and I met a 12-year-old Masai boy named Richard Turere, who told us a fascinating story. His family raises livestock on the edge of a vast national park, and one of the biggest challenges is protecting the animals from lions—especially at night. Richard had noticed that placing lamps in a field didn’t deter lion attacks, but when he walked the field with a torch, the lions stayed away. From a young age, he’d been interested in electronics, teaching himself by, for example, taking apart his parents’ radio. He used that experience to devise a system of lights that would turn on and off in sequence—using solar panels, a car battery, and a motorcycle indicator box—and thereby create a sense of movement that he hoped would scare off the lions. He installed the lights, and the lions stopped attacking. Soon villages elsewhere in Kenya began installing Richard’s “lion lights.”

The story was inspiring and worthy of the broader audience that our TED conference could offer, but on the surface, Richard seemed an unlikely candidate to give a TED Talk. He was painfully shy. His English was halting. When he tried to describe his invention, the sentences tumbled out incoherently. And frankly, it was hard to imagine a preteenager standing on a stage in front of 1,400 people accustomed to hearing from polished speakers such as Bill Gates, Sir Ken Robinson, and Jill Bolte Taylor.

But Richard’s story was so compelling that we invited him to speak. In the months before the 2013 conference, we worked with him to frame his story—to find the right place to begin, and to develop a succinct and logical arc of events. On the back of his invention Richard had won a scholarship to one of Kenya’s best schools, and there he had the chance to practice the talk several times in front of a live audience. It was critical that he build his confidence to the point where his personality could shine through. When he finally gave his talk at TED, in Long Beach, you could tell he was nervous, but that only made him more engaging—people were hanging on his every word. The confidence was there, and every time Richard smiled, the audience melted. When he finished, the response was instantaneous: a sustained standing ovation.

Since the first TED conference, 30 years ago, speakers have run the gamut from political figures, musicians, and TV personalities who are completely at ease before a crowd to lesser-known academics, scientists, and writers—some of whom feel deeply uncomfortable giving presentations. Over the years, we’ve sought to develop a process for helping inexperienced presenters to frame, practice, and deliver talks that people enjoy watching. It typically begins six to nine months before the event, and involves cycles of devising (and revising) a script, repeated rehearsals, and plenty of fine-tuning. We’re continually tweaking our approach—because the art of public speaking is evolving in real time—but judging by public response, our basic regimen works well: Since we began putting TED Talks online, in 2006, they’ve been viewed more than one billion times.

On the basis of this experience, I’m convinced that giving a good talk is highly coachable. In a matter of hours, a speaker’s content and delivery can be transformed from muddled to mesmerizing. And while my team’s experience has focused on TED’s 18-minutes-or-shorter format, the lessons we’ve learned are surely useful to other presenters—whether it’s a CEO doing an IPO road show, a brand manager unveiling a new product, or a start-up pitching to VCs.

[Here’s Anderson’s first of several specific suggestions with an explanation.]

Frame Your Story

There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about. Conceptualizing and framing what you want to say is the most vital part of preparation.

Find the Perfect Mix of Data and Narrative

We all know that humans are wired to listen to stories, and metaphors abound for the narrative structures that work best to engage people. When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey. A successful talk is a little miracle—people see the world differently afterward.

If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end. To find the right place to start, consider what people in the audience already know about your subject—and how much they care about it. If you assume they have more knowledge or interest than they do, or if you start using jargon or get too technical, you’ll lose them. The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience members that they should, too.

The biggest problem I see in first drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground. You can’t summarize an entire career in a single talk. If you try to cram in everything you know, you won’t have time to include key details, and your talk will disappear into abstract language that may make sense if your listeners are familiar with the subject matter but will be completely opaque if they’re new to it. You need specific examples to flesh out your ideas. So limit the scope of your talk to that which can be explained, and brought to life with examples, in the available time. Much of the early feedback we give aims to correct the impulse to sweep too broadly. Instead, go deeper. Give more detail. Don’t tell us about your entire field of study—tell us about your unique contribution.

Of course, it can be just as damaging to overexplain or painstakingly draw out the implications of a talk. And there the remedy is different: Remember that the people in the audience are intelligent. Let them figure some things out for themselves. Let them draw their own conclusions.

Many of the best talks have a narrative structure that loosely follows a detective story. The speaker starts out by presenting a problem and then describes the search for a solution. There’s an “aha” moment, and the audience’s perspective shifts in a meaningful way.

If a talk fails, it’s almost always because the speaker didn’t frame it correctly, misjudged the audience’s level of interest, or neglected to tell a story. Even if the topic is important, random pontification without narrative is always deeply unsatisfying. There’s no progression, and you don’t feel that you’re learning.

I was at an energy conference recently where two people—a city mayor and a former governor—gave back-to-back talks. The mayor’s talk was essentially a list of impressive projects his city had undertaken. It came off as boasting, like a report card or an advertisement for his reelection. It quickly got boring. When the governor spoke, she didn’t list achievements; instead, she shared an idea. Yes, she recounted anecdotes from her time in office, but the idea was central—and the stories explanatory or illustrative (and also funny). It was so much more interesting. The mayor’s underlying point seemed to be how great he was, while the governor’s message was “Here’s a compelling idea that would benefit us all.”

As a general rule, people are not very interested in talks about organizations or institutions (unless they’re members of them). Ideas and stories fascinate us; organizations bore us—they’re much harder to relate to. (Businesspeople especially take note: Don’t boast about your company; rather, tell us about the problem you’re solving.)

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

TED’s Chris Anderson was born in a remote village in Pakistan, and spent his early years in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, where his father worked as a missionary eye surgeon. He graduated from Oxford University with a degree in philosophy, and then trained as a journalist. After several years at newspapers and radio stations, he got hooked on the strange new “home computers” which had just started appearing. He became an editor at one of the UK’s early computer magazines, and a year later, in 1985, formed a tiny start-up to launch his own magazine. Its unlikely success led to more launches, and his company Future Publishing grew rapidly under the moniker “media with passion.”

Anderson expanded to the United States in 1994, where he built Imagine Media, publisher of Business 2.0 magazine, and creator of the popular games website IGN. The combined companies eventually spawned more than 100 monthly magazines, employing 2,000 people. And they allowed Anderson to create a private nonprofit foundation, the Sapling Foundation, which hoped to find new ways of tackling tough global issues by leveraging media, technology, entrepreneurship, and most of all, ideas. Sapling acquired the TED Conference in 2001, and Anderson then left his businesses to focus on growing TED.

Note: He is not to be confused with his super-smart friend, the Chris Anderson who edits WIRED magazine and is the author of The Long Tail and, more recently, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.

Monday, June 24, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Master Switch By Tim Wu — So Many Books, So Little Time

Here’s the latest in my occasional lament: so many books, so little time. I simply blog about books that sound important, that I wish I had time to read…  Will this move up in my “must read” list?  Time will tell.

First, here’s what Chris Anderson (The Long Tail, Wired) says about this one:  “An explosive history that makes it clear how the information business became what it is today. Important reading.”

The book is The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu (Knopf — November 2, 2010).  I read about it in the article The Master Switch by Tim Wu — a Masterful Guide to Our Internet World by Art Brodsky, Communications Director, Public Knowledge on The Huffington Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Wu’s eminently readable book is a history of the telephone network, the movie industry and broadcasting, all of them leading up to the history of today’s combination of all of them — the Internet. Those industries had innovative, entrepreneurial beginnings, promising great things for society. There is a rocky growth and development period as the technology becomes better, may encroach on other businesses and finally reaches critical mass. Into the chaos comes a “great mogul” to impose order — to control the Master Switch to information and technology: “Markets are born free, yet no sooner are they born than some would-be emperor is forging chains.” As Wu notes, the federal government is usually recruited to help out the mogul and his plans to gain control over the technology and product.

Wu’s cycle has a backside also, in which another disruptive technology, or a public-spirited government, breaks up the mogul-driven business model, and the Cycle starts anew.

Wu has done his homework. The stories of the industries Wu tracks are fascinating. In today’s corporate-driven movie business, we forget that there was a generation of outcasts who started movie studios, invented new technologies, took over theaters and made the industry their own, at least until other forces broke it up and new models took over. One industry leader could dictate that the time was not right for full-length movies, until a rebel arose to show longer films, and that rebel became part of the industry firmament. One of the early movie moguls was one Wilhelm Fuchs, a Jewish immigrant who later changed his name to Fox. Yes, that Fox.

The article ends with this closing quote from the book:

Let us, then, not fail to protect ourselves from the will of those who might seek domination of those resources we cannot do without. If we do not take this moment to secure our sovereignty over the choices that our information age has allowed us to enjoy, we cannot reasonably blame its loss on those who are free to enrich themselves by taking it from us in a manner history has foretold.




Monday, November 1, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Magazine Articles Ever (from CoolTools)

For book lovers, here is a list of a different kind:  The Best Magazine Articles Ever.  Andrew Sullivan linked to it on his blog.

Here is the article, up to the list of the top seven.  The article lists many others, by decade.  Admittedly it is, as all lists, subjective.  Kevin Kelly posted it on his CoolTools blog.  I have not read all of these seven, and they are definitely going into my “to read” stack.

The Best Magazine Articles Ever

The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever.  Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Submitter comments are in italics.

This is a work in progress. It is an on-going list of suggestions collectively made by readers of this post. At this point the list has not been vetted or selected by me. In fact, other than the original five items I suggested, all of the articles mentioned here have been recommended by someone other than me. (Although I used to edit Wired magazine none of the articles from Wired were suggested by me or anyone who worked at Wired. I also did not suggest my own pieces.)

This list is incomplete though it is getting quite long. You may notice that your favorite author or piece is missing. This is easy to fix. Simply recommend your favorite magazine articles to me via email: Or if your favorite article is already listed, use the same form to recommend it in order to elevate it to the “top”. At some point in a few weeks I’ll close the nominations.

— KK

The Top Seven Articles Based on the number of times an article is recommended

****** David Foster Wallace, “Federer As Religious Experience.” The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.

***** David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.

***** Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet.” Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.

****** Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Esquire, April 1966.

**** Ron Rosenbaum, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.

**** Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds.” Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.

**** Edward Jay Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.

Andrew Sullivan recommended this article, As We May Think by Vannevar Bush from the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic, and included this quote:

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

And I would include the original articles (both led to books) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.  And, of course, I would remind our readers that we link to the Malcom Gladwell and Atul Gawande archives, which you can find always on the right side of our blog.

And I would also recommend the David Halberstam article from the July, 1969 Harper’s, The Very Expensive Education of McGeorge Bundy.



Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

So Much to Know — TMI to Learn

One of the clearest examples of the long tail in the book The Long Tail is the story of Bollywood movie theaters in the United States.  There are only a handful of places where fans of such movies live in such close proximity to one theater that they can sustain such a theater at a profit.  A few more neighborhoods can justify stocking Bollywood movies in a local Blockbuster.  But the long tail of Netflix (and Amazon) can turn a profit by shipping such moives, requiring no expensive square footage to stock an adequate supply.

I was telling this story at a conference in Indianapolis, and finally one brave soul asked “What’s Bollywood?” It was then that I realized what I should have remembered — we simply have too much to learn, and remember.  We have TMI — too much information.

Think about this list (and this is truly a short/partial list):

Purple Cow, Linchpin, Tribes, Long Tail, Bollywood, Hedgehog Principle, Blink decisions, 10,000 hour rule, Outliers, Checklists, Wikis, Wikinomics, Womenomics, Knowing-Doing Gap, Fierce, Freakonomics (Superfreakonomics!), Blue Ocean, Free, Black Swan, Execution, 10-10-10…

And you can add your own to this list.  Good luck managing the TMI era.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

Chris Anderson: Atoms are the New Bits

Atoms are the New Bits — The Next New, New Insight from Chris Anderson

Bob Morris told me about this a few days ago. (I don’t know how I had missed it. Thanks, Bob).

Chris Anderson is at it again, explaining the way the world is changing. Anderson introduced us to The Long Tail, and then argued for the arrival of Free. (I’ve presented both of these books at the First Friday Book Synopsis). Now he says that the industrial revolution is upon us in a whole new form. The article is: In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits and it basically says that big is going to lose to small, and small is definitely the future.

Here quite a few excerpts, with a couple of my observations at the end. (the full article is definitely worth reading).

Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.

This story is about the next 10 years.

Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits.

Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.

The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3-D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit. Anybody with an idea and a little expertise can set assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop.

Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine. The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.

“Hardware is becoming much more like software,” as MIT professor Eric von Hippel puts it. That’s not just because there’s so much software in hardware these days, with products becoming little more than intellectual property wrapped in commodity materials…

We’ve seen this picture before: It’s what happens just before monolithic industries fragment in the face of countless small entrants, from the music industry to newspapers. Lower the barriers to entry and the crowd pours in.

The result has allowed online innovation to extend to the real world. As Cory Doctorow puts it in his new book, Makers, “The days of companies with names like ‘General Electric’ and ‘General Mills’ and ‘General Motors’ are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people.”

Peer production, open source, crowdsourcing, user-generated content — all these digital trends have begun to play out in the world of atoms, too. The Web was just the proof of concept. Now the revolution hits the real world.

In short, atoms are the new bits. (emphasis added).

This means that one-person enterprises can get things made in a factory the way only big companies could before.

Everybody’s garage is a potential high tech factory. Marx would be pleased.

Bill Joy, one of the cofounders of Sun Microsystems, revealed the flaw in Coase’s model. “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else,” he rightly observed… With the Internet, you didn’t have to settle for the next cubicle. You could tap the best person out there, even if they were in Dakar.

Not all US manufacturing is shrinking, however — just the large part.

It’s the ultimate virtual manufacturing company: Aliph makes bits and its partners make atoms, and together they can take on Sony.

Welcome to the next Industrial Revolution.

In the article, Anderson tells the story of the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper (an idea that Ford stole – he ultimately was awarded nearly $30 million). Today, he could have turned the idea into product on his “own,” much more quickly.

As I pondered this article, these were some lessons that I saw about the new future that has arrived/is arriving

1) Collaboration has always been about collaborating with the best/smartest/cutting edge people. Now, the tools of the era allow us to collaborate with those people regardless of where they work or live. It will be collaborate with the best, or die.

2) The future will be owned by individuals – “you (whoever you are) will own you.” Your ideas, your innovations, your concepts, will increasingly be owned by the individual who came up with them. And that individual will find the workers to turn the ideas into products on his or her own. The idea person will not have to build a factory.

3) The changes will keep coming. This new chapter in the industrial revolution is only that – the new chapter, the latest chapter. There will be others to follow.

What are they? We don’t know.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Long Tail at Work — Al Franken’s win, a brief case study

News item: we now know that Al Franken used the wisdom gleaned from Chris Anderson’s idea about the Long Tail to win his election.

The Long Tail, the idea championed by Chris Anderson, and Microtrends, the book by Mark Penn, converge in this story. And you can throw a little Seth Godin and Tribes into the mix.

You probably know the concept of the Long Tail by now. A Border’s or Barnes and Noble store will stock books that have the best chance of selling. Amazon sells the same books, and some 80% of the books sold on Amazon are stocked in a typical physical retail bookstore. But 20% of sales for Amazon are from the “long tail.” (A quick read for this idea, and it is pretty good, is the wickipedia article on the Long Tail).

The traditional way to make money was to market to the masses. But increasingly, the way to reach people is with narrower niche marketing. This is really the end game of the long tail – it enables one to market, very successfully, to an increasingly narrow niche. Mark Penn describes it this way in Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes:

All these people out there living a more single, independent life are slivering America into hundreds of small niches. (The number of households in America has exploded, even though population growth has slowed dramatically).
This book is about the niching of America. How there is no One America anymore, or Two, or Three, or Eight. In fact, there are hundreds of Americas, hundreds of new niches made up of people drawn together by common interests.
You can’t understand the world anymore only in terms of “megatrends,” or universal experiences. In today’s splintered society, if you want to operate successfully, you have to understand the intense identity groups that are growing and moving, fast and furious in crisscrossing directions. That is microtrends.
A microtrend is an intense identity group, that is growing, which has needs and wants unmet by the current crop of companies, marketers, policymakers, and others who would influence society’s behavior.

The number crunchers keep examining the last election. Here is a revealing description about the Franken win (let me recommend, don’t let your politics, one way or the other, get in the way — – pay attention to the marketing implications). I first read this in a Daily Kos post, but the source is Long-Tail Nanotargeting from Politics Magazine.

Thanks to Democrat Al Franken’s Senate campaign, we now have a proven model to move beyond [the old campaign voter targeting] strategies. We do it by tapping into the concept of the “long tail,” an Internet marketing theory popular in the corporate world. It’s based on the idea that the Internet audience is extremely fractured. So, instead of identifying the most universally persuasive messages and broadcasting them to a wide audience, in the long-tail model you take the most persuasive messages and nanotarget each one to the right niche.
People don’t go to one place, looking for one thing. Their whims take them to a million places. The trick is to be everywhere, with tightly targeted messages. It’s about showing them highly relevant factoids/ads tailored to the whim they’re currently indulging, which if clicked, will redirect them to a relevant part of your website or related off-site content. In short, long-tail nanotargeting takes those little gems—be it an endorsement, video, news story, or ask—and shows it to the people who would care. To this end, we ran more than 30 million impressions for the Franken campaign across five horizontal ad networks, two vertical networks and dozens of local news outlets.
We nanotargeted more than 125 niche groups, with more than 1,000 pieces of creative, for less than $100,000. On Google alone, an acquisition budget of less than $20,000 got us more than 20,000 clicks, 5,500 active e-mail sign- ups, and more than 2,500 donors. We were able to reach persuasion niches (this is akin to someone opening up and reading a mail piece) for a fraction of a penny per impression, and less than 50 cents per interaction.
They targeted geographic and demographic niches online. They tested messages to see what worked best. Here’s an example:
In real terms, Minnesotans who were searching for cheap gas or researching fuel-efficient cars saw ads about Franken’s plan to lower gas prices.

The long tail has made Amazon successful, helped elect Al Franken, and, I suspect, will be the way to go for an ever growing number of businesses. It is the internet that makes this possible. But it is understanding the long tail, and implementing strategies that take advantage of the long tail, that will make people more successful.


You can purchase my synopses of The Long Tail and Microtrends, and my colleague Karl Krayer’s synopsis of Tribes, with audio + handout, from our companion site,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chris Anderson’s “Free” — Now that I’ve presented it, a partial verdict, with some key excerpts

Here’s my approach.   First, I think we should let the words of an author speak for themselves.  When I present a book synopsis, it is my job to say, as clearly as possible, “this is that the author is saying.”  And then, and only then, do I have the task of wrestling with, arguing with, running with the ideas, pursuing the many and multiple implications of an author’s words.

Free:  The Future of a Radical Price

Free: The Future of a Radical Price

I just presented my synopsis of Free:  The Story of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson.  Yes, I have read much of the controversy surrounding the book, including Malcolm Gladwell’s smack-down against and Seth Godin’s defense for the book, which includes Godin’s smack-down of Gladwell.  (Juicy fun — but quite serious, also).  I blogged about this here, and it has all of the links — Gladwell, Godin, and Anderson’s response to Gladwell.

But now I have carefully read and presented the book.  I’m still undecided about Gladwell’s ultimate point/criticism, that Free simply fails to provide a viable working business model.  I do see the dangers and difficulties of implementing Free as a business model.

(And, I learned something in the process:  I offered a “free” offer – truly free, no strings attached, at the end of my presentation, and I’m not all that sure that very many will take me up on the free offer.  We’ll see).

But I think I am persuaded by Anderson’s case that everything digital wants to be Free, and that even other more “physical” commodities will inevitably move to, if not free, the lowest, then even lower, possible price.  His section on corn, ethanol, and the rise of switchgrass was especially provocative.

Anyway, here are a couple of excerpts from the book that especially ring true.  He describes how, as digital Free arrived, those who thought that Free could be defeated went through the five stages — from Kübler-Ross:

• Stage 1:            Denial
• Stage 2:            Anger
• Stage 3:            Bargaining
• Stage 4:            Depression
• Stage 5:            Acceptance.

I think this is accurate, and I suspect we are seeing/will see this played out in the battle over the Kindle/e-books.

One other part that was especially interesting was this.  We really are in a period of great volatility, in all areas, including the arena of how companies will be organized and function… This chart, directly from the book, was clear, and useful, I think.

Scarcity Abundance
Rules “Everything is forbidden unless it is permitted” “Everything is permitted unless it is forbidden”
Social Model Paternalism

(“we know what’s best”)


(“you know what’s best”)

Profit Plan Business Model We’ll figure it out
Decision Process Top-down Bottom-up
Management Style Command and control Out of control

I think Free is potentially as instructive as The Long Tail was.  It is certainly worth a more careful look.


My synopsis of The Long Tail is available, but the synopsis of Free, with audio + handout, is not yet up on our companion site.  Look for it in about three weeks, or so.

Saturday, October 3, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , | 1 Comment

At this moment, Free is either Free, or Full Price — take your pick (a short post)

You’ve heard the controversy about the new book by Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail), Free:  The Future of a Radical Price.  A lot of people have weighed in.  (See my earlier post).  Add to the list of critics Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban  He blogged about it here and here and a few references in a couple of other follow-up posts.  At this moment (early morning, July 23, 2009), Free is # 183 on’s best seller list, and # 74 in non-fiction.  Very healthy numbers on Amazon.

But here’s the curiosity.  Amazon is selling Free at full price (at this moment).  I don’t remember the last time I saw a business book on Amazon going for full price with no discount.  But you can get Free for free as an audio book on iTunes (which I have done), read by Chris Anderson himself.  And Anderson is offering Free for free in Google books and offered it free on the Kindle (for a limited time).  (check out his web site for details).

What an intriguing approach…

Thursday, July 23, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

Game On: Handicap Match — Gladwell vs. Godin and Anderson

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.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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