FREE is an idea I’ve played with before. Now Chris Anderson, the brilliant editor of Wired and Long Tail advocate, has turned his attention to the four letter word that is shocking business people everywhere. I remember back in the day when sixties radical Abbie Hoffman titled his most famous publication Steal This Book. What a title! It was a book about free – what was free and how to get it. What Hoffman considered worth getting for free says a lot about the times. We’re talking free sandals, free communes, free smoke bombs, and gardening for free ‘herb’. Hoffman’s book even came with its own stolen Library of Congress catalog number! But while the idea of free is old, what is new is the way the digital world has made free a global phenomenon.
Chris Anderson’s book Free: the Future of a Radical Price is less ambitious than The Long Tail. It’s more a journey through the digital world of FREE than an attempt to discover what it means or how it will change anything. As the recent demonstrations in Iran have shown, texting, tweeting, and ‘free’ journalism outdid the newspapers in terms of instant access to what was going on. This free media doesn’t mean that newspapers have to pack up their tents, but it does mean they have to evolve.
My bet is that FREE will turn out to be like many other revolutionary phenomena and it will live in an And/And relationship with other technologies. The music industry is turning itself inside-out to cope with the free downloaders by getting faster, more flexible, and more responsive. Music is a tough, competitive business. Talent sparks everywhere, the barriers to entry are low, and choice is, for all practical purposes, limitless. No wonder FREE rocked here first and only now has newspapers, magazines, and books, in its sight.
Of course, FREE is a big part of human nature. Ask mothers who bring up children. Ask the millions of people who help out those who are less well-off. We live in a capitalist age but we need it to be the Capitalism of Inclusion. A world where people look after those who are close to them and watch out for those who fall along the wayside. With FREE opening up communications and creativity, sharing, and social networks, I believe it is helping to make the world a better place. The debate around FREE uncovers its potential to bring out the best in people. I believe we are already seeing this online and offline. FREE to a good home? Sounds perfect to me.