Comments on

Free Launch

Original entry posted: Mon Jul 20 19:19:12 2009


Krystian Majewski @ Mon Jul 20 15:46:47 2009 EST

I've read the book (actually heard the audiobook). My initial impression was a positive one. Largely because I do agree with some of his points.

But some of the flaws you pointed out are spot on. The NIN & Radiohead "proof" is a nice one. Another frequently mentioned example is the Author Paulo Coelho (also mentioned in the book). All those people don't seem to be pressed too hard to earn any money. They are very popular and have a large fan base. One is left wondering if they got where they are if they had distributed their books & music from the get go.

But to give Anderson credit, he later on described how in a free economy only the few most popular can make a living out of it. And there are some interesting practical examples at the very end, although certainly way too brief. In the end the Fluff vs. Real Information ratio is quite unfavorable, just like in Gladwell's Books.

But to be fair, I would argue that your critique doesn't hold much water either. Your main points against his 4 categories of free are that they are "old" and "uninteresting"? The latter one is a purely subjective term. Unitinteresting for whom and in what context?

As for the argument that they are not new: some of them certainly aren't, I agree. Others seem to have gained more significance, especially on the Internet, as you yourself observed. Isn't that the whole point of setting up such categories? To be able to judge and compare them?

None of your arguments point out any actual flaws in that categorization itself. It seems to me like you are trying to expose some kind of gap between your expectations and what the book actually delivers, without actually describing what you've expected. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your thought on that topic.

Thomas @ Mon Jul 20 16:05:36 2009 EST

I'd argue that Anderson explicitly tries to set these things up as "new and revolutionary," which is why I'm disappointed that so many of them are just rehashes of old business models.

Take, for example, this extended quote, starting at location 148 in my Kindle version (bold mine, italics in original):
Surely economics must have something to say about this, I thought. But I couldn't find anything. [...] Somehow, an economy had emerged around free before the economic model that could describe it. Thus this book, an exploration of a concept that is in the midst of radical evolution. As I came to learn, free is both a familiar concept and a deeply mysterious one. It is as powerful as it is misunderstood. The free that emerged over the past decade is different from the free that came before, but how and why are rarely explored. What's more, today's free is full of apparent contradictions: you can make money giving things away. There really is A [sic] free lunch. Sometimes you get more than you pay for.
Elsewhere, Anderson defines this as a kind of generational concept--the hip youngsters instinctively get this, the old fogies ("those over thirty") don't.

There's a lot of hyperbole right here on the page: a new and unstudied economic model! A free lunch! "Those who understand the new free will command tomorrow's markets and disrupt today's"! So while it may be true that I'm going into this with raised expectations, I don't particularly think that's my fault.

If the point of the book is that free products can be used to subsidize pay services, or that it's possible to give products away and make money and value via other channels, I don't disagree. But I don't see any point in writing a book about that, either. With a megaphone as large as Anderson's, I personally would hope for something more profound.

If you find my reactions unconvincing so far, that's perfectly understandable. I'm only on chapter two. As we get farther in, and Anderson actually starts applying his ideology to real problems, hopefully I'll be able to generate some meatier criticism.

Matt @ Mon Jul 20 16:14:58 2009 EST

There are plenty of other bands that have released albums for "free." Harvey Danger (Seattle-based band, best known for the song "Flagpole Sitta") gave away their last album on their Web site. It was pretty good, and I'd call that a bold move for a band that isn't as well-known or rolling in money like Radiohead and NIN.

But the main point of my comment is that I went to the library this weekend to check out a copy of Free. Not in stock. Instead, I checked out the Return of Depression Economics. There's a joke in there somewhere.

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