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on 25 August 2009
Economists swear there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone always pays. That may be true in the "atoms" world of physical things, but Chris Anderson explains why it does not apply in the "bits" world of the Internet, where "free" is the ruling paradigm. If, as Stewart Brand (founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue and the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) said, "Information wants to be free," now it is, at least in many instances, particularly online. While the idea of giving things away as a promotion or loss leader isn't new, Anderson's fresh insight is that giveaways are becoming a business imperative that companies are going to have to accept and use. Actually, companies online and off can become immensely profitable when they give products or services away for free to bring customers in and to create the need for future ancillary product sales (in other words, take the printer and buy the ink). Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor of Wired magazine, tells you how to make money by providing most of your offerings for free and charging for just a few of them. getAbstract recommends this perceptive, innovative, idiosyncratic book to all marketers.
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on 24 July 2009
The author of the book, Chris Anderson, has solid credentials. He is the editor of Wired while he has previously held posts at The Economist, Nature and Science magazines. He is the author of the widely acclaimed and best selling 'The Long Tail'and was the recipient of the Loeb award for best business book in 2007.

The two books, 'The Long Tail' and 'Free' bear a family resemblance in that they are both based on the argument that rapid technological innovation has led to a paradigm shift in business model, product marketing, and cost. But unlike 'The Long Tail', 'Free' lacks an elegant underlying explanation for why some of the new models work and others do not, consequently while 'Free' is interesting is not as compelling as its illustrious sibling.

'The Long Tail' provided an illuminating perspective on the success of internet companies such as Amazon, eBay and Google. These very different companies were all exploiting the internet's capacity to open up niche markets that their rivals with physical facilities, limited precisely by the lack of physical space, could not.

The author divides the idea of Free into four subcategories:cross-subsidies e.g give away the razor, sell the blade;advertising-supported services from radio and television to websites;freemium in which a small subset of users pay for a premium version, supporting a free version for the majority;and non-monetary markets in which participants motivated by non-financial considerations develop things like open-source software and Wikipedia.

Obviously at least the first two categories are old and the author readily acknowledges that. He argues that Free is not new but it is changing. What is different, he argues, is that Free can be more widely applied in the digital era. He argues that while last century's Free was a powerful marketing method, this century's Free is an entirely new economic model.

Beyond the old-fashioned cross-subsidies and free samples, some companies have found new ways to make Free work, but there are not many of them, and the sustainability of others is unclear.

The inability of the author to shed light as to which of these new models are likely to work and which are not is, in my judgement, a flaw in the book.
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on 23 August 2009
In the spirit of Free, I didn't buy this book, but downloaded the ereader version gratis. The book's big claim is that Free is coming to dominate in business. This idea is propped up with some history of the roots of the concept of "zero". None of this is entirely convincing. And as you click through the pages, the grand thesis becomes much-diluted. What's left in an account of how business models are coping (in some cases with spectacular success) in a world where the marginal cost of all things digital falls by half each year: it's about digital abundance rather than gifting.
Still there is plenty of interesting, if not wildly new, material not least about how the Google business model rests on assuming in advance the giddy, inexorable lowering of data storage costs.
Anderson's take on things is pretty grounded in commercial realities - and certianly rings true for the digital world. But the forays into the non-digital world, such as the cheap-razors-expensive-blades Gillette model, are a little tired. There is also a touch of digital cheerleading. I read this on a trip to Kenya: injunctions to "manage for abundance, not scarcity" sound pretty hollow amid growing food scarcity.
But the way Anderson applies his perspective to some of the world's most exciting new businesses is intriguing and illuminating - and his conversational style in highly readable. Only digital natives, the under thirties, may find it all very predictable
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on 7 July 2009
Just finished this.

A good, interesting book, but very annoying that there are next to no references. It makes his arguments weaker as you can't verify his sources.

This is more of an academic gripe, and the book is very good aside from this.
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The best things in life are free, or so the old saying goes. These days, however, it seems that more and more companies and retailers are trying to get us something for free, and it is becoming increasingly doubtful that all of those freebies are the best that life can offer. Nonetheless, all this free stuff has certainly contributed to making many aspects of our daily lives simpler and more convenient, especially when it comes to those parts of our lives that we spend in digital world.

The raise of free predates computers, and it has a venerable history in the annals of marketing. Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of the "Wired Magazine" and the author of insightful "Long tail," narrates the greatest highlights of the history giving products for free. He also explains the rationale behind how the prices get set in a free market, and the reason why in the absence of almost any production costs we can expect products to eventually end up free. The reason that there is a proliferation of free nowadays has everything to do with the fact that the cost of creating and moving bits of information around is essentially zero.

Anderson spends an entire chapter defending the free model against its many critics. He takes every common objection to free that has been heard in recent years and provides a cogent and well-informed refutation. How convincing his arguments are, however, may depend on your own attitude and point of view.

At the end of the book there is a list of fifty different business models where products or services are given out for free. This is a useful list for anyone considering a cutting-edge modern business, and for the rest of us it gives us an opportunity to take a look at what kinds of things can be obtained for free these days.

Overall, this is an interesting book that takes a look at modern economy form a very unique angle. Only the time will tell if the paradigms used in this analysis will survive the test of time or are they just the latest fad.
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on 15 June 2011
I bought this book hoping it would help me understand a little better the economics of the internet world. There's no doubt that the internet was built around the concept of Free, but like with every other topic I'm interested in, I missed reading a systematic study about what (if anything) had changed, and how. This book does a decent job at it, but it wasn't perfect.

It gives a historical account of Free, the different meanings it can have, and how people react to it. It goes into the web world and those that have benefited from it, and those who have not, and why. It starts off well, but after a while, I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again. It gets better again towards the end, but I struggled to keep going in the middle since not much was being added to the discussion.

At times this felt very much like a one-sided account. The book touched upon the negative consequences of free but largely dismissed them in the grand scheme of things, and I wasn't convinced it was actually that simple. Still, a decent book on the topic.
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on 15 May 2010
I had a great expectation about FREE but it failed to meet that. The author started with historical background of how Free give away came into picture. He discussed several aspects of Freebies including manufacturing. A good part of the book is focused on digital media, which is not surprising in internet age. However, whatever he discussed in this book, is already known facts. Nowadays there are lots of books which showed how Google operates, software piracy works or Freemium model generates revenue. Yes, it is informative but not ground breaking. May be it is worth reading only if you get it free.
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VINE VOICEon 4 December 2015
I didn't get it gratis, but it cost me one note in a bargain bucket.

Somewhat apropos of nothing, and leading nowhere to boot, this book reminds me of Jessie J's ultracrepidarian and infamous/famous Price Tag track that... cost 99p. But for someone who looks good in a catsuit, she seems to have grasped the marketing potential of positive externalities and that money is NOT the only way to measure value. Attention, reputation, publicity, hype may be given gratis, but this does not mean that they have no value.

Let us consider her economic philosophy:

"It's not about the money, money money
We don't need you money, money, money
We just want to make the world dance [to our tune]
Forget about the price tag" -- © Jessie J.

There is much truth in that vis-à-vis this book and Ms J displays a nuanced and astute grasp of the benefits of deferred monetary gratification in favour of a longer term, and larger, income stream from an as-yet-unidentified monetized scarcity in the near-to-mid future. (My parentheses.) Perhaps the artiste and the author may collaborate on a future project?

Thus ends an entertaining digression.

The title I chose basically sums up this book. Its title is poorly chosen. It should be "Free: The Future of a Radical Price ONLINE".

Thus this book is about computers and DIGITAL CONTENT, and the gist is that the "marginal cost" of REPLICATING digital content, be it music, books or movies, is so low that it is "too small to meter" (he means "meter" as in gas or electricity"). It's also about behavioural economics -- what choices people make in scarcity and abundance.

I feel slightly cheated buying this book as both front and rear covers give no hint on its COMPLETE focus on digital content (the "bits" in my title. The "atoms" refer to tangible, physical things which even the author concedes will never go to zero when he mentions bits in one sentence...) Anderson: "[The young generation] intuitively understand the economics of atoms versus bits, and realized that the first has real costs that must be paid" -- p.230.

I was hoping three-dimensional printers, advances in materials science, and paradigm shifts in agriculture would feature (before looking for its publication date.)

So I feel slightly cheated and misled by being tricked into buying this book.

There is a good quote, though, on p.227: "On the personal level, if you walk into a disgusting public toilet, you can probably smell uncompensated negative externalities". (Basically means that with abundance, and FREE abundance at that, people tend to abuse that abundance.) It's a neat little quote.

Another intriguing thing about this book is that it is old -- old in computing terms where processing, bandwidth and storage climb higher and higher with each passing year albeit at different rates -- it is seven years old in particular (more about that later). This is interesting because a lot of what he says has not come to pass or was only a transient, intermediate stage. One example is FREE newspapers online. They now charge for anything other than headlines and the leader sentence tidbits. This the author calls "freemium" -- a ploy/strategy whereby a small percentage of paid subscribers who pay to access the whole newspaper online, subsidize all the non-paying browsers who just see a little. And by the way that little has shrunk in the seven years since this book was written.

Lastly, I'll end on the "seven years old" comment I hinted at above. On p.223 the author sneers at a competitor's marketing strategy as "[...] a tip jar next to the PDF of a seven-year-old-book is a joke [...] a book at the end of its life".

Well, they were prophetic words. It seems THIS book is now "at the end of its life", too, and should be pulped.

Occasionally interesting. It has historical value only.
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on 18 June 2011
The next morning I woke up after I had finished the book I had breakfast made of ingredients I paid for and then I commuted paying some real money for the tickets and somehow I could not find a lot of "free" around me. I'm skeptical about the concept, not about the book though, as it seems to aspire to have much broader approach then the famous Long Tail by Anderson. I've read both and as far as Long Tail narrative tends to concentrate on internet based business models in Free Anderson tries to dialogue with classic economy and it gets quite entertaining even for those (or rather especially for those) who do not have academic background in economy. The motive of abundance ousting scarcity and the influence it has on economics is well reasoned and convincing. How the radio actually turned out to operate in free-to-air model as we know it today is another interesting and well researched episode. It did not seem that obvious at the start in 1920s.

At the end though it's not easy to share authors' enthusiasm for new, free-based economy as when it comes down to reviewing some examples they are all dominated by dotcoms of different kind. Rarely if ever he leaves his dotcom kingdom, which is not a drawback of the book, unless you expect it to take more general approach which first few chapters seem to be suggesting not mentioning the title: "Free. How today's smartest businesses profit by giving something for nothing". Seems like you have to operate online to earn the "smartest" grade. Looka unfair, as there are quite a lot of successful enterprises in retail or telco or automotive or IT... or well, you name it, and they are not giving away anything for free, not at least in a new, modern meaning Anderson is pursuing while yielding impressive cash flows. It would not be fair to blame Anderson for not writing about every possible business model existing on planet Earth. Isn't it tempting however to ask not only why and how some businesses move into "freemium" zone, while others deliberately do not even seem to be considering it? It's left for the readers to ponder.

The book has a nice surprise for those skeptical about "free" concept. It is the last chapter nicely summarizing in 14 points key arguments against Free which obviously are not left without a comment. It might just be the most inspiring part of the book.
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on 16 June 2011
The next morning I woke up after I had finished the book I had breakfast made of ingredients I paid for and then I commuted paying some real money for the tickets and somehow I could not find a lot of "free" around me. I'm skeptical about the concept, not about the book though, as it seems to aspire to have much broader approach then the famous "Long Tail". I've read both and as far as Long Tail narrative tends to concentrate on internet based business models in Free Anderson tries to dialogue with classic economy and it gets quite entertaining even for those (or rather especially for those) who do not have academic background in economy. The motive of abundance ousting scarcity and the influence it has on economics is well reasoned and convincing. How the radio actually turned out to operate in free-to-air model as we know it today is another interesting and well researched episode. It did not seem that obvious at the start in 1920s.

At the end of the day though it's not easy to share authors' enthusiasm for new, free-based economy as when it comes down to reviewing some examples they are all dominated by dotcoms of different kind. Rarely if ever he leaves his dotcom kingdom, which is not a drawback of the book, unless you expected it to be of a more general approach which first few chapters seem to be suggesting not mentioning the title: "Free. How today's smartest businesses profit by giving something for nothing". Seems like you have to operate online to earn the "smartest" grade. Seems unfair, as there are quite a lot of successful enterprises in retail (Ikea, Tesco) or telco (O2, Vodafone) or automotive (Toyota) or... well, you name it, and they are not giving away anything for free (in a new, modern meaning Anderson is pursuing) yet yielding impressive cash flows. It would not be fair to blame Anderson for not writing about every possible business model existing on planet Earth. Isn't it tempting however to ask not only why and how some businesses move into "freemium" zone, but also why others deliberately do not even seem to be considering it? It's left for the readers to ponder.

The book has a nice surprise for those skeptical about "free" concept in a form of last chapter nicely summarizing in 14 points key arguments against it which obviously are not left without a comment. It might just be the most inspiring part of the book.
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