"Free" in debate

Some of the minds that I respect the most have sounded off this week on a recent book written by Chris Anderson (Editor of Wired Magazine and Author of The Long Tail).
Malcolm Gladwell set off the debate with his book review... Seth Godin respectfully disagreed with Malcolm .... and Mark Cuban also weighed in (Interestingly enough - both Seth and Mark often blog about the relative topic for quite some time)...

Anyway - I'm obviously not as insightful as any of these people - but from where I sit - I think the clearest reality is somewhere in-between where the two sides sit...

The very brief overview:
(Disclaimer - I haven't read the book - just the commentaries above)
Anderson and Godin argue that information is expected to be free for end consusmers - and that the parties that fight this (ie Newspapers) will wither away... Gladwell and Cuban says that free isn't sustainable and that anyone who thinks it can will end up losing a lot of money in the long-run (ie Youtube/Google).

My personal take:
In the digital era there is a certain amount of information that is expected to be free. With "free" comes lower expectations of how well that information is displayed, written, consumed. Everyday I expect to get "the headlines" for free. I expect to read sports stories on the Miami sports franchises for free. I expect to get hotel reviews for free. I expect to watch an entertaining 3 min video clip for free. With free - I don't expect that I'm going to be blown away by this information... I'm just looking to casuaully consume it. In these cases - it's up to the providers of this information to monetize this content via other methods than from my pocket (hence the "FREE"). The only way the industry has seen fit to try and do this is through advertising. I work in the industry for 11+ years and rather than get sidetracked on this post - please trust me when I tell you that the online medium as a technology is way too amazing for smart marketers and publishers to not figure it out in the long run ... It's just not an over-night exercise...

There is another set of information that I don't expect to be free. Professionally written and insightful material. Top notch video. Trustworthy medical and legal advice.

I still pay $20 per month for weekend NYT delivery. I'm not looking for headlines when I sit down, drink my coffee, and read my weekend paper. I'm looking for valuable, professionally written material (some people may not value this - but I do). I still pay $12.50 per ticket to go see movies (and some of them shouldn't even be considered "professionally done").

So the "net-net" is that the good ol' information superhighway has commaditized certain elements information. It is merely the evolution of our economy. What happened to the railroad when airplanes began to become affordable to everyone? What happened to 411 when the Yellow Pages were first published? On the flip side - people used to pay $0.25 for a cup of coffee until Starbucks convinced people their coffee experience was 4x better than what they were used to...

It's been said for a while, but newspapers will have to change their model ... but that doesn't mean they have to go away or that it's impossible for consumers to value quality journalism. It just means they can't be in the mass-market headlines business anymore ... And it means that they can't sell advertising the same way... but they can figure it out.

There is a market for free information - and that market is enormous. There is a smaller market for professionally published information than there was 10 years ago - but it's just different that what existing providers of free information are used to...

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