Jordan Rosenfeld has written a great profile of our fearless leader, Chris Anderson, for the latest issue of Writer’s Digest. Discussing Anderson’s upcoming book titled Free: The Past and Future of a Radical Price, the article examines some of the current and controversial concepts around making content available for free. Anderson is clearly a believer in the power of print, but he’s also one of the leading thinkers in how to deal with the issues that the digital era has brought to the forefront as copying and distributing content has become trivial.
Anderson states, "I believe the book is the superior product. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do this. I make a physical magazine, after all; we understand what paper can do that pixels can’t." But the focus of Free is about how giving away free samples of a product, or even the product itself, in an alternative format can actually encourage sales.
This is a topic I’ve thought a lot about, and it’s been fascinating to me to watch how we’ve struggled around these issues, from Napster to YouTube. I think Anderson is right on the money here, and I look forward to reading his new book. Besides works like Anderson’s previous book, The Long Tail, I’ve been influenced by Tim O’Reilly’s excellent essay "Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution" (every bit as relevant today as when he wrote it in 2002) and Mike Masnick’s ongoing analysis of these issues in the Techdirt blog.
From the GeekDad perspective, I bet many of you have been confronted with issues around your children wanting to download free music and movies from the net, and wondering how best to handle that. I know I have struggled with these issues personally — I’ve always been a big music consumer, to the point where I think the music industry should consider and treat me as a valued customer (yeah, sure, that’s going to happen). But I’ve also always shared music with friends, going back to the days we made cassette tapes of our new LPs and passed them around school. That’s sort of analogous to dipping into Limewire or BitTorrent to check out the latest tunes, but clearly the scale and technologies involved aren’t the same, and the trend of today’s kids thinking that all music should be free is something new and radical. But I also really have a hard time with the way the music industry has dealt with digital music and I’m not at all happy about the idea that they think I should be licensing music now and I will only get to play it under certain conditions or on certain devices. If I spend my hard-earned money on music, I want to own it and do with it what I want. For this reason, I can’t encourage my kids to use something like the iTunes Music Store, where the music they buy will surely stop working for them at some future date after a few system upgrades. Tricky issues, for sure.
As an interesting aside, while this article is in the latest issue of the print version of Writer’s Digest, it can also be viewed for free on Coverleaf, a new digital magazine service. Coverleaf partners with magazine publishers and provides their print subscribers with free access to digital versions of their magazines, and in a fashion that I’m sure Anderson would approve of, allows anyone to view free previews of articles from the various member magazines.
Disclosure: I work for Coverleaf, the service that provides digital editions of many magazines, including Writer’s Digest.