Godin vs Gladwell vs Anderson on the Price of Free

I’ve really been enjoying Seth Godin’s blog. But boy did he cheat in his post Malcolm is Wrong.

“I’ve never written those three words before, but he’s never disagreed with Chris Anderson before, so there you go.”

Cute beginning for a post.

Free is the name of Chris’s new book, and it’s going to be wildly misunderstood and widely argued about.”

So far, so good. But then:

“The first argument that makes no sense is, ‘should we want free to be the future?’

Who cares if we want it? It is.

The second argument that makes no sense is, “how will this new business model support the world as we know it today?”

Who cares if it does? It is. It’s happening. The world will change around it, because the world has no choice. I’m sorry if that’s inconvenient, but it’s true.”

Which is great writing, and great points. Really strikes at the core of the arguments that Gladwell DIDN’T make. Godin defends his pal Anderson by building a straw man opponent and knocking it down and pretending that he knocked out Gladwell.

As Godin points out, ironically I have to pay to read Anderson’s Free which argues that information will now be free.

AFAICT Anderson’s argument is that since the incremental cost of distributing a new piece of information is zero, in a competitive environment information will be free.

Gladwell counters with:

  1. Intellectual property rights matter. Despite the fact that songs can be stolen online, Apple is making a fortune off of iTunes. Some suckers just respect other people’s property and purchase their creations. Go figure.
  2. The world already knows other models where negligible incremental costs don’t create low prices. The pharmaceutical industry recoups its R&D costs by making tremendous margins on individual pills. The industry will continue to thrive unless thwarted by government confiscation of their intellectual property.
  3. There are many possible models that can and do work. Cable TV stations are doing just fine with their pay models, despite free TV. Apple can try to maximize revenue on iPhones and give away iTunes, or sell iPhones at a loss to maximize iTune revenue. Let’s not presume we know what strategy work. In short, it’s far too early to declare the Free model the ultimate winner. We’ll see.

Gladwell has me convinced. Anderson will sell a lot of books (which seems to contradict his thesis) but his simplified thesis is extremely flawed.

Godin had me convinced too … until I realized that he had knocked down his own straw man argument, and not the arguments Gladwell actually made.