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

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.