The whole “Free” debate is alive and well, thanks to Chris Anderson. Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell have weighed in, and right behind them, Mark Cuban put out this piece. I want to skip down to the part where my head started nodding like a bobble-head:
Newspapers are also catching flack for saying they dont want their content openly distributed. On this point, they are correct again. They should have complete control over where it is distributed. They should have the ability to choose where it is offered for free.
Not only should they have this control, taking back this control is the exact right business move. Im not saying it will save newspapers or magazines, it wont. But it will make their website offerings stronger in the long run. If Im them, I take the risk that the â€œprintedâ€ content business follows the path of the music industry.
Again, the whole article is here and it’s probably better that you read it before disagreeing with me (or Mark, or whoever).
Mark frames the biggest point as the right of entities to control where their material is distributed. The point is this: just because something’s available via a distribution method (like RSS) doesn’t mean it’s free for the taking and re-use. Ditto the idea that just because search services (hear me, Google?) can see it and grab it all and index it doesn’t mean that it’s free for the taking and re-use.
At the heart of this is a choice. We can distribute our material and let it loose to the wild and hope to capture value elsewhere, or we can choose to lock our material into containers of perceived value. Model 2 is the way the world has worked for well over a hundred years. There’s a split in our thinking about all this, though.
Seth Godin put it this way:
People will pay for content if it is so unique they can’t get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people. We’ll always be willing to pay for souvenirs of news, as well, things to go on a shelf or badges of honor to share.
Seth’s right, I believe. I think many of today’s media distribution organizations will either morph or die. (My money’s on people like USAToday/Gannett figuring it out, in the paper world. Not sure who I’d bet on for TV. You?)
Mark’s right, I believe. I think that companies have the right to rein back in their content and that people who think it should all be free no matter what are wrong.
Malcolm? I don’t know. Didn’t read the piece. I’m on vacation. He might be wrong. (I agree with Seth quite often, so maybe I’ll just trust him).
My Take on Free
You might have cottoned to the notion that I give a LOT of what I do away for free. My post on presence management is the kind of stuff that other companies sell to their clients. Why give it away? Because I can keep making new stuff all damned day. And I choose to share because I want you to be able to run with stuff and do it yourself, if you want.
My take? I give away general ideas for free and I sell customized information and execution. I work with really wonderful (and big) companies on their efforts in the business communications and emerging technology space, and that pays the bills. My writing? I give 91.5% of it away for free.
I want you to PAY for some of it soon. In August, for instance. I want you (and 4 of your friends) to buy Trust Agents. I want to sell the crap out of that book. I want it to light up the New York Times and Amazon and everywhere else. Why? Because I’m proud of the work I did with Julien, and I want it to pop!
Should I give you that for free, too? I say no. Because I’ve already given you mountains of stuff for free, and I’ll continue doing this. I don’t want your money for me. I want your money to pay John Wiley and Sons. I want your money to pay indie bookstores and Barnes & Noble and whoever. Because that’s an exchange. I share hard work, and you trade it for some loot.
So what do you think of it all? What’s free mean to you?
Special thanks to Tim Sanders for getting me started on this tonight.