Free – is it really?

I am a great fan of Chris Anderson, whose book The Long Tail I have spent countless hours analysing and discussing.  In July 2007 I presented a conference paper (at the Australian and New Zealand Communications Association conference in Melbourne) about it, analysing my own organisation’s (the Rural Health Education Foundation’s) “long tail” effect.

Anderson has just published his new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, and I have spent more hours that I will admit examining the impact, controversy and critiques of this idea.  From Malcolm Gladwell’s review in the New Yorker to Janel Maslin in the New York Times to bloggers everywhere, there’s a lot of discussion going on about Anderson’s ideas.

Anderson summarises it thus in his book (page 3):

Therein lies the paradox of Free:  People are making lots of money charging nothing [Google being the prime example of this].  Not nothing for everything, but nothing for enough that we have essentially created an economy as big as a good-sized country around the price of $0.00.  How did this happen and where is it going?

Reportedly, Free is currently tied for 11th best-selling book on the New York Times best-seller list (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is still number after some 34 weeks; see my Outliers book review).  And Anderson truly “puts his money where his mouth is” (as they say) – offering it, as they say, totally FREE, through SCRIBD.  According to Anderson, the free digital version has already been downloaded “between 200,000 and 300,000 times”.  And yet people are buying it also, helping Anderson to prove his point that “free” can be an effective business model.  (Although no-one has yet compared the sales of Anderson’s The Long Tail to Free; perhaps Free will have fewer sales, running against Anderson’s argument.  You can see where this is going.)

By the way, Free is NOT available “free” for those of us who live in Australia – and presumably in most other places outside the USA.  Go to the “Free” download page on SCRIBD – – and you will be automatically transferred to: and given the following message on screen:  “Sorry, this content is geographically restricted.  Due to our agreements with our publishing partners, the document you requested is only available to users located in the United States.”  So “Free” is not really (in print form, at least) … free after all.  Hmmm.  It reportedly was also offered free for a brief period on Amazon’s Kindle (not available in Australia), Sony Reader and iTunes.  You can, however, download the audio book free (I have done this, so it works; note 285 MB zip file) by going to Wired magazine of 17 July 2009.  As far as I can tell, there is no preview available on Google books, although Anderson’s website says it is.

I bought my copy at Abbeys Books on George Street in downtown Sydney for Aus$35.00 on Friday 31st July, the only place I could find it then.  (August 23 note:  it has since made it to other bookshops in Australia, including airport news stands, so is reasonably available).

To read more about this book, click here for my August 22nd post.

(By the way, Scribd has a little sting to its website tail.  Once you are on it, the site will not let you go back to your previous website if it was in the same browser window.  It’s irritating.  So open a new window every time you go there.  You’ve been warned.)


One Response to Free – is it really?

  1. […] Chris Anderson’s Free, continued Returning to the Chris Anderson book Free:  The Future of a Radical Price, which I originally wrote about on August 2 of this year. […]

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