Free

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Free as in 'gratis', and 'free beer', not as in freedom and free speech

Description

Why is free the basis of the digital economy, Chris Anderson:

"The result is that we now have not one but two trends driving the spread of free business models across the economy. The first is the extension of King Gillette’s cross-subsidy to more and more industries. Technology is giving companies greater flexibility in how broadly they can define their markets, allowing them more freedom to give away products or services to one set of customers while selling to another set. Ryanair, for instance, has disrupted its industry by defining itself more as a full-service travel agency than a seller of airline seats (see “How Can Air Travel Be Free?”).”

“The second trend is simply that anything that touches digital networks quickly feels the effect of falling costs. There’s nothing new about technology’s deflationary force, but what is new is the speed at which industries of all sorts are becoming digital businesses and thus able to exploit those economics. When Google turned advertising into a software application, a classic services business formerly based on human economics (things get more expensive each year) switched to software economics (things get cheaper). So, too, for everything from banking to gambling. The moment a company’s primary expenses become things based in silicon, free becomes not just an option but the inevitable destination.”

“The most common of the economies built around free is the three-party system. Here a third party pays to participate in a market created by a free exchange between the first two parties. Sound complicated? You’re probably experiencing it right now. It’s the basis of virtually all media.” (http://www.relationship-economy.com/?p=821)

Typology

Chris Anderson [1]:

The cross-subsidy model:

the razors-and-blades model, as well as loss leaders of all sorts, from "free gift inside" to "free toaster for opening an account

Graphic at http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/WindowsLiveWriter/free1.png

The media business model

ranging from free-to-air broadcast radio and television to all ad-supported content online today

Graphic at http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/WindowsLiveWriter/free2.png

Freemium model

"The third is the new one, enabled by digital markets where the marginal cost of production and distribution is close to zero. This is the one that allows the "freemium" business model, where 90% of the users get the basic product for free and 10% chose to pay for a premium version. In economics this is called "versioning" and is a form of using price discrimination (where the main price is zero) to maximize both the consumer utility and the profit in a market. In this model, charging a small percentage of a large user base beats charging a large percentage of a small user base. Obviously best for consumer products with potentially large appeal, it's the main Web 2.0 business model and can be found everywhere from Flickr and Flickr Pro to open source's "support included" commercial versions of Linux." (http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2008/09/the-three-kinds.html)

Graphic at http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/WindowsLiveWriter/free3.png

Discussion

Kevin Kelly's Eight Generatives beyond Free

"the money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits."

Read the whole article here at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/kelly08/kelly08_index.html

"When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.

When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Well, what can't be copied?" (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/kelly08/kelly08_index.html)


The Eight Generatives:

"Immediacy — Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released — or even better, produced — by its creators is a generative asset. Many people go to movie theaters to see films on the opening night, where they will pay a hefty price to see a film that later will be available for free, or almost free, via rental or download. Hardcover books command a premium for their immediacy, disguised as a harder cover. First in line often commands an extra price for the same good. As a sellable quality, immediacy has many levels, including access to beta versions. Fans are brought into the generative process itself. Beta versions are often de-valued because they are incomplete, but they also possess generative qualities that can be sold. Immediacy is a relative term, which is why it is generative. It has to fit with the product and the audience. A blog has a different sense of time than a movie, or a car. But immediacy can be found in any media.

Personalization — A generic version of a concert recording may be free, but if you want a copy that has been tweaked to sound perfect in your particular living room — as if it were preformed in your room — you may be willing to pay a lot. The free copy of a book can be custom edited by the publishers to reflect your own previous reading background. A free movie you buy may be cut to reflect the rating you desire (no violence, dirty language okay). Aspirin is free, but aspirin tailored to your DNA is very expensive. As many have noted, personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time consuming. You can't copy the personalization that a relationship represents. Marketers call that "stickiness" because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset, and will be reluctant to switch and start over.

Interpretation — As the old joke goes: software, free. The manual, $10,000. But it's no joke. A couple of high profile companies, like Red Hat, Apache, and others make their living doing exactly that. They provide paid support for free software. The copy of code, being mere bits, is free — and becomes valuable to you only through the support and guidance. I suspect a lot of genetic information will go this route. Right now getting your copy of your DNA is very expensive, but soon it won't be. In fact, soon pharmaceutical companies will PAY you to get your genes sequence. So the copy of your sequence will be free, but the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it — the manual for your genes so to speak — will be expensive.

Authenticity — You might be able to grab a key software application for free, but even if you don't need a manual, you might like to be sure it is bug free, reliable, and warranted. You'll pay for authenticity. There are nearly an infinite number of variations of the Grateful Dead jams around; buying an authentic version from the band itself will ensure you get the one you wanted. Or that it was indeed actually performed by the Dead. Artists have dealt with this problem for a long time. Graphic reproductions such as photographs and lithographs often come with the artist's stamp of authenticity — a signature — to raise the price of the copy. Digital watermarks and other signature technology will not work as copy-protection schemes (copies are super-conducting liquids, remember?) but they can serve up the generative quality of authenticity for those who care.

Accessibility — Ownership often sucks. You have to keep your things tidy, up-to-date, and in the case of digital material, backed up. And in this mobile world, you have to carry it along with you. Many people, me included, will be happy to have others tend our "possessions" by subscribing to them. We'll pay Acme Digital Warehouse to serve us any musical tune in the world, when and where we want it, as well as any movie, photo (ours or other photographers). Ditto for books and blogs. Acme backs everything up, pays the creators, and delivers us our desires. We can sip it from our phones, PDAs, laptops, big screens from where-ever. The fact that most of this material will be available free, if we want to tend it, back it up, keep adding to it, and organize it, will be less and less appealing as time goes on.

Embodiment — At its core the digital copy is without a body. You can take a free copy of a work and throw it on a screen. But perhaps you'd like to see it in hi-res on a huge screen? Maybe in 3D? PDFs are fine, but sometimes it is delicious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper, bound in leather. Feels so good. What about dwelling in your favorite (free) game with 35 others in the same room? There is no end to greater embodiment. Sure, the hi-res of today — which may draw ticket holders to a big theater — may migrate to your home theater tomorrow, but there will always be new insanely great display technology that consumers won't have. Laser projection, holographic display, the holodeck itself! And nothing gets embodied as much as music in a live performance, with real bodies. The music is free; the bodily performance expensive. This formula is quickly becoming a common one for not only musicians, but even authors. The book is free; the bodily talk is expensive.

Patronage — It is my belief that audiences WANT to pay creators. Fans like to reward artists, musicians, authors and the like with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect. But they will only pay if it is very easy to do, a reasonable amount, and they feel certain the money will directly benefit the creators. Radiohead's recent high-profile experiment in letting fans pay them whatever they wished for a free copy is an excellent illustration of the power of patronage. The elusive, intangible connection that flows between appreciative fans and the artist is worth something. In Radiohead's case it was about $5 per download. There are many other examples of the audience paying simply because it feels good.

Findability — Where as the previous generative qualities reside within creative digital works, findability is an asset that occurs at a higher level in the aggregate of many works. A zero price does not help direct attention to a work, and in fact may sometimes hinder it. But no matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless. When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention — and most of it free — being found is valuable." (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/kelly08/kelly08_index.html)

Jonathan Schwartz on the benefits of 'giving away'

“Now, I've heard from a few stockholders saying, "What? Sharing? Free Software? What's up with that! Go make some money!" And so I thought I'd put down, once and for all, why we're committed to sharing, to open source, open standards, and eradicating the digital divide. Ready?

Because we're going to make more money. How? It's trivially simple. Why do carriers give handsets away for free? Because they make money on the subscription necessary to receive the handset. Why do banks give away free checking, or free credit cards? Because they acquire new customers. Why do Google and Yahoo! give away free search? Because there's a fortune in the end result. So why on earth would we give our OS away for free? Because it'll ensure those without the economic wherewithal to pay for it will still consider using it. Companies that suffered from piracy a decade ago now know the lesson well - piracy is a good thing so long as the pirates are folks who could never afford your products. So stop calling them pirates, call them users. Free software has no pirates. As I've said forever, there's value in volume, even if you're not paid for it. Do I worry about enterprises or corporate customers taking OpenSolaris and not acquiring a subscription to someone's (hopefully our) service contract? No, not in the least. Do you really think a hospital, or an air traffic control authority or a Minister from an African nation would run their institution on unsupported software? No. No way.

...

Sharing is good for our business. Free software is good for our business. Anyone who believes in preserving the old model of software distribution is, at a certain level, fighting gravity. The most popular credit cards are the free ones. The most popular handsets, search engines, and checking accounts are the free ones. Just like the most popular operating systems will be, in the long run, the... Free ones. And as I've consistently said, and as you'll soon see, there's a lot of value in volume. (http://blogs.sun.com/roller/trackback/jonathan/Weblog/sharing)

More Information

  1. Chris Anderson landmark article in Wired, http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free?
  2. Chris Anderson on the Emergence of Free
  3. Chris Anderson on the Freeconomy
  4. Chris Anderson on Free