09 July 2009
Chris Anderson's new book is called "Free", and is all about the history and future of giving things away in business. Contrary to some reports, it doesn't argue that everything should be free - it just looks at how giving some things away can enable you to sell some other things.
Some people have argued that authors should give away their work for free. The idea is that the reputation that builds as a result of that opens doors for consulting work, lecturing, media appearances and so on. Personally I'm not convinced by that argument: it means you have to work twice to get paid once, and it also means that your job changes from writer to consultant/lecturer/talking head, which is probably not what you really want to be. The writing just becomes marketing, rather than the focus of your creative and working life.
I can see how making things free can help to attract an audience, though, if you can afford to do so. At a time when it's hard enough to fight for people's attention, fighting for their money too is an uphill struggle.
Anderson's book is available in a couple of free formats. You can download the unabridged audiobook for free at Wired's website. The abridged audiobook will cost $7.50 from outlets including Audible. The thinking is that busy people might be prepared to pay more to save time. It's counterintuitive to charge more for less, but I do listen to a lot of audiobooks but can't ever remember getting through an unabridged one. The audio format just isn't as convenient as a real book for full-length works.
The ebook is available at Scribd, and embedded below, but you can't download or print the PDF. For more comfortable viewing, click the button in the top right of the box to view full screen. So much of the content on Scribd is there without the author's permission, so this promotion will also bring a lot of credibility to the Scribd platform.
The audio formats will remain free forever, but the ebook formats will be available for just one month. If all else fails you could always stump up for the hardback.
UPDATE: The Scribd version of Free has now been withdrawn, after five weeks and 170,000 reads.
I think with regard to authors, his argument is not so much that they 'should' give away their work, but that they'll find themselves competing with someone who does.
By giving away sample chapters of University of Death you're adopting the business model he calls "freemium".
Some of what you say could read like "I like/am good at x. I want to get paid for x". But you can't always have that, nor does past marketability guarantee future marketability. There are fewer chimney sweeps now than 100 years ago.
However: while consumers might be coming to expect top notch writing for free, I think that there'll be a long term place for businesses that pay money for that writing. It's up to those business to develop business models wherein they buy writing, publish it for free, and earn money some other way.
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