Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to LoseBy Steffen • Sep 30th, 2009 • Category: 26th Story, Big Ideas, Business
I’ve been thinking a lot about last week’s panel discussion about free versus paid content, moderated by Chris Anderson, author of “Free.” The discussion moved primarily between two points of view; Chris’s view that media companies should be much more aggressive in their experimentation, giving more content away in order to sell “premium” content (he said that he should have titled the book “Freemium,” jokingly blaming his editor, Will Schwalbe, for pushing the catchier “Free”), while the panelists (John Sargent, ceo of Macmillan; Gary Hoenig of ESPN Publishing; and Alan Murray, in charge of online at the Wall Street Journal) were talking about the dangers of giving too much away. Alan Murray, for instance, was glad that the Journal had charged for its online content from the beginning, as opposed to the New York Times’s approach, because it’s very hard to go back from free to paid.
Even Chris had to admit that the experiment of giving away his most recent book for free in e-book form had been a mixed success. “Free” was given away to 500,000 people via various e-book platforms, but sold less than what Chris’s previous book had (“The Long Tail“). But as I told Chris after the panel, the problem wasn’t the experiment. The experiment was a great learning experience, and even if they sold only ten percent of the sales on “The Long Tail,” that would have been a success if the book had been done on a low advance/profit-sharing basis. The problem is when authors want to have their cakes and eat them, too…getting a large advance but wanting to experiment with free content models, or getting a large advance and then deciding that what they really want is more marketing. I love to experiment, too…but we should all benefit equally from the results.