Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

The value of free

Posted on | February 26, 2008 | No Comments

Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson is getting a little play this week because of some buzz over his forthcoming book, which he hasn’t titled but has said it’s loosely called “Freeconomics,” set for release next year. (Not to be confused with the very entertaining book “Freakonomics.”) Anderson is giving himself a little pre-publishing lift by dedicating the cover of Wired to the story. (And my colleague Simon Jones at Taking Sand to the Beach, beat me to the punch on this story).
Chris and I spoke at a dinner last spring in Palo Alto, one of the first places he started airing the concept. Anderson shook up a roomful of semiconductor executives who are seeing their business commoditized rapidly.
Free is already here of course, and in our business (communications), it’s really starting to ramp.
Consultant and author David Meerman Scott has another book out for free: “The New Rules of Viral Marketing.” The book has been downloaded 42,000 times in the 20 days it’s been up. The only marketing he’s done has been on his site. He’s gotten a lift from people like me, who link to it.
42,000 times. Let that sink in. If he charged $10, he’d be making some good coin, but that’s not the point. The point is to build his business (and at the same time, because of his books’ format, he’s redefining what a book is online and overall).
Investor and author Andy Kessler is on the bandwagon as well. Yesterday I downloaded his book “How We Got Here.” He uses free to drive registration (and interest to his site and his non-free books).
Free is not new. Software is free today. Transistors are free.
My old employer, CMP Media, understands pretty well that publishing isn’t a profit center, but a loss-leader to other high-value services, such as research, marketing consulting and business analytics.
And obviously, Simon and Kessler and Meerman Scott and myself and 100 million others understand that there’s a element of value in the free information we put out in the world that takes time to product.
So what does that mean for The New York Times et al? More pressure to figure out where they fit into the scheme of things.

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No Responses to “The value of free”

  1. David
    February 27th, 2008 @ 2:07 am

    Hey Brian, I’m up to 58,000+ downloads in less than two months. I’ve thought a lot about what I would get if I charged ten bucks per download. My answer? About a thousand bucks because very few people actually would. But here’s another question – what would I have to pay (using traditional marketing) to get 58,000 people to pay attention to my idea if I didn’t offer free and valuable stuff? Answer = Millions of dollars.

    Cheer, David Meerman Scott

  2. screaminglady
    February 28th, 2008 @ 10:39 am

    Are you the first person to “noun-ify” the word free? Shocked, I say. Shocked! Has Fuller finally abandoned his constitutionalist language values and joined the English 2.0 movement? Don’t say “totally” yet.

  3. Deb
    March 6th, 2008 @ 8:56 am

    Hey Brian, I’ve also thought alot about the implications of intellectual property going “free” for some time now. Will innovators on the agency side move to a model where thinkers give it up for free, and monetize themselves through alternative channels and strategies? I ponder the future of the $300 billable hour for “creative” ideas. Free can be priceless, as David points out.


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