Thursday, June 03, 2010

Why They Hate Free

I hear a lot of anger from content creators whenever they hear me say "free" and "content" in the same sentence. They seem to think I want everything to be free, that "information wants to be free", etc. Their main point of contention, it seems, is they feel their hard work is devalued by offering it to consumers for free.

But free is just another price.

Say a book publisher offers a book for $15, and I offer a similar book for $10—all things being equal, my cheaper book will attract more buyers. To regain readership, my competitor might lower their price from $15 to $9. Then some jackass comes along and offers a similar book... but for free.

That's insane! That's so stupid! That's retarded! Readers will obviously choose this new free book over our book! We must loudly and unequivocally denounce this moronic behavior, and tout this interloper as a purveyer of dangerous ideas that will surely kill the publishing industry. Above all, we must insist that everyone will lose, especially the consumers. So get on our bandwagon, consumers! Stop all this free stuff if you want to save the publishing industry!

But free is just another price.

When I arrived at that conclusion, I realized that—from the perspective of most Old Dogs in the industry—they hate when I talk about offering product for free because they see no way to compete with it. Not only am I "devaluing" their work by giving away product which they must still charge for, which must feel pretty offensive to them, but I'm also offering up content for a price far lower than they can afford to offer... if they want to stay in business. In short, I'm advocating a strategy that represents their single most lethal business threat. Of course they're going to hate me for that.

But free is just another price.

If I discover a new and more innovative business model which allows me a chance to give away a product for free and still make a profit (by selling other scarce and valuable things), should it be my moral responsibility to help keep all those Old Guard competitors in business even though they continue to reject and openly deride my new business model? Of course not. My responsibility is to compete and if I don't compete better, then I'll be beat by those who do compete better than I. If my business model means I've found a way to give product away at a price lower than my competitors can afford, too bad for them. That's how it goes. But offering content for free is not anathama in itself.

Free is just another price.

No comments: