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Free: How today's smartest businesses profit by giving something for nothing Paperback – 6 May 2010
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"Turns traditional economics upside down" (Guardian)
"Even if you're a freesheet-reading Spotify user, this is the best £18.99 you'll ever spend" (GQ)
"An insightful, steady and scrupulous analysis" (Financial Times)
"There are many books about the workings of the new economy, but Anderson ... [is] ... one of the most reliable and skilful guides. Free is worth the money" (Management Today)
"An enjoyable jaunt through business land" (Daily Telegraph)
The author of The Long Tail unveils his radical vision of the new economySee all Product description
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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.
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.
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
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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Somewhat apropos of nothing, and leading nowhere to boot, this book reminds me of Jessie J's...Price TagRead more