I have a confession to make. I judged Chris Anderson’s 2009 book, Free, by the word on its cover. Now that I’m actually reading the book, it’s pretty obvious that Anderson is not one more Silicon Valley evangelist hell bent on a radical redistribution of wealth. And he’s not the enemy of media elites, he’s just kicking facts and showing readers how free can actually lead a company to profits, in some cases insane profits.
Here’s a humble passage from the book: “If we measure success in terms of the creation of vast sums of wealth spread among more than a few people, Free can’t yet compare to Paid.” In other words, Anderson knows free’s place.
Anderson also carefully examines the “information wants to be free” meme, pointing out that most people fail to take into account what Stewart Brand actually said. Brand created the Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL, let’s give the man his due.
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
Anderson says Brand’s declaration is “probably the most important–and misunderstood–sentence of the Internet economy.” For sure, the forces–free and paid–are clashing mightily. Professional content creators want their information to be expensive (or, at the very least, paid), but is this an expectation that can no longer be met when the market is flooded with information?
Personally, I don’t see a problem paying for, or charging for, great content. There’s a glut of information, but a scarcity of insight. When real value is provided, there will be a market for it. I still believe that, despite some recent misgivings.