Free Your Mind of Any And All Ideas About Free

I’m pleased to see someone as prominent as Malcolm Gladwell take Chris Anderson’s new book, Free apart at the binding.
Here’s a passage from Gladwell’s book review in The New Yorker:

His advice is pithy, his tone uncompromising, and his subject matter perfectly timed for a moment when old-line content providers are desperate for answers. That said, it is not entirely clear what distinction is being marked between “paying people to get other people to write” and paying people to write. If you can afford to pay someone to get other people to write, why can’t you pay people to write? It would be nice to know, as well, just how a business goes about reorganizing itself around getting people to work for “non-monetary rewards.” Does he mean that the New York Times should be staffed by volunteers, like Meals on Wheels? Anderson’s reference to people who “prefer to buy their music online” carries the faint suggestion that refraining from theft should be considered a mere preference. And then there is his insistence that the relentless downward pressure on prices represents an iron law of the digital economy. Why is it a law? Free is just another price, and prices are set by individual actors, in accordance with the aggregated particulars of marketplace power. “Information wants to be free,” Anderson tells us, “in the same way that life wants to spread and water wants to run downhill.” But information can’t actually want anything, can it? Amazon wants the information in the Dallas paper to be free, because that way Amazon makes more money. Why are the self-interested motives of powerful companies being elevated to a philosophical principle?

Up until now, my criticism of Anderson’s latest effort, has mostly been about what I perceive to be horrible timing for his message that “information wants to be free” (which is something Stewart Brand first said). But then matters became much murkier when Anderson got busted for plagiarism, a charge which is typically a career killer for any writer, but apparently not for Anderson.
Virginia Quarterly Review discovered almost a dozen passages that are reproduced nearly verbatim from uncredited sources. But Anderson released an apology, citing production troubles as the cause of the oversight and Hyperion supports Anderson’s explanation and promises the electronic and future versions of the book will be corrected.
Interestingly, Gladwell’s review dismantles Anderson’s thinking without any mention of the external realities swirling around the book.
I used to be open to the suggestions of men like Anderson, but now that I’m deep in to this journey as a mostly unpaid content producer, I’m finally asking tough questions, like why do I do this–AdPulp–for free? I thought I had some valid answers at one time, but now I see those old answers as mostly flimsy deceits. The real answer is I have no business providing this content for free. Literally, I have no business. You have a business when there is a sustainable revenue model in place. AdPulp doesn’t have one. Nor does Twitter, You Tube or Facebook. I recognize what good company I’m in but ultimately I don’t care about that. What I care about is that I am rewarded for my efforts, experience and skill and that my peers and co-conspirators are too.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. faRFAR FooLEY says:

    It’s kind of like being a fine artist. You do it because you have to do it. The chances of being paid for a painting are virtually nil for most painters, for example, yet they continue to paint if only for themselves and people who simply aren’t willing to pay.
    In other words, if you want to get paid, don’t bother being a painter or a blogger.
    YouTube and Twitter sell advertising, which is a perfectly sustainable business model by the way.

  2. Writers write because they have to write. I’m down. But writers also alter the course of what they choose to write, as necessary.
    The “perfectly sustainable business model” you mention is FAR from it.
    If YouTube wasn’t owned by one of the richest companies in the world, it would not exist because no one else would foot the bill for all that bandwidth and content licensing.

  3. i have to smile at some of the lowly worms/struggling peeps doing cooking blogs on blogspot. Some are taking fotos with a $2500 camera and lens outfit when you check the specs on their images. any coincidence about the advertising on their blogs and their page one status in searches. If blogging would only pay enough to get me a new camera like that?
    Even so something seems fishy no matter where the mediterranean salt is harvested.
    oh well, la colatura was once only worthy for the very very poor of Naples. Right now it’s a delicacy so rare that it doesn’t even have a wiki entry yet. I’ll have to keep an eye on that in blogspot though.

  4. The commentary which you include helps to establish your personality and credibility as a subject matter expert.
    Granted, that may not be an immediate benefit (the majority of your readers bouncing in from Google are unlikely to be in need of your services at the time they arrive) but it would be hard to argue against the notion that you are building some kind of social capital, right?
    Whether the social interest earned on your time investment is worthwhile is your call; a well-written blog with a long history may be an earmark of a modern professional … or it may prove to be ultimately frivolous.

  5. Zachary,
    I appreciate your thoughtful comments.
    Your last paragraph perfectly sums up how I’ve been feeling about this project for some time now. I’m afraid that “ultimately frivolous” is the right answer. I don’t want to think that but as I add up the “interest” on my significant pile of social capital, it simply doesn’t add it up in monetary terms. Social capital gives a blogger a degree of notoriety, free passes to cool conferences, soc net “friends” and so on, but it does not provide job offers, freelance or consulting. Those come to a person the old fashioned way, through real life contacts. A popular blog like AdPulp can lead to more of those real life contacts, for sure. But the expertise given for free on the blog is not in itself currency that one can bank on.

  6. While I realize it is poor payment for the amount of time you spend sharing your insight, your commentary is well-respected and very much appreciated by those of us who visit regularly.

  7. Thank you chidog! It’s comments like yours that help keep a guy going.

  8. i challenge all of you who visit regularly to cough up at least a few bucks for david’s dog food/beer fund. it’s not easy (or cheap) to raise a pup AND live in america’s craft brewing capital.

  9. interesting td, what do you propose?

  10. whatever you think david’s daily effort is worth. i threw down a hundred bucks several months ago after reading almost every day for about two years.

  11. Thanks again (for being the man) Todd!
    Vinny, here you go…
    Contribute to the AdPulp creative writing fund courtesy of Pay Pal.

  12. thanks david. i will contribute. only fair. and may i add congratulations on your recent marriage.