Gladwell Takes on Anderson’s Free

The irony of Chris Anderson’s new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price is that the not-so-free publication that has given him the national platform and megaphone — Wired Magazine — is stumbling and may eventually fail because of the ad recession. I haven’t read Free and so I’ll refrain from saying anything about it from second hand accounts. But Malcolm Gladwell takes it on in a new New Yorker piece:

The biotechnology company Genzyme spent five hundred million dollars developing the drug Myozyme, which is intended for a condition, Pompe disease, that afflicts fewer than ten thousand people worldwide. That’s the quintessential modern drug: a high-tech, targeted remedy that took a very long and costly path to market. Myozyme is priced at three hundred thousand dollars a year. Genzyme isn’t a mining company: its real assets are intellectual property—information, not stuff. But, in this case, information does not want to be free. It wants to be really, really expensive.

Anderson dismisses Gladwell’s criticism of the book as being a simple matter of psychology:

A long review of Free by Malcolm Gladwell. Like many journalists, he finds Free unsettling

Though I haven’t read it I can say this: as with all such sweeping theories, the reality “on the ground” is more complex. But it seems particularly ill-suited to this moment or perhaps well suited to it as the case may be. Maybe if Anderson’s book had shown up a couple years ago during the boom and not during the worst recession of most people’s lives it might not be receiving the skepticism and mild backlash (read: schadenfreude) it seems to have inspired.

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Update: Anderson responds to Gladwell more substantively here on the relatively narrow question about newspapers and writing for free.

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5 Responses to “Gladwell Takes on Anderson’s Free”

  1. Tim Cohn Says:

    I haven’t yet got a copy of his book either but plan to grab one when copies become free.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Touche . . .

  3. David Mihm Says:

    Good one, Tim! I read Gladwell’s response in its entirety yesterday, haven’t read the book just yet but will surely pick it up. I hope it is not like ‘The Long Tail’, though which could have been condensed into a four-part blog series pretty easily…

    As I wrote a month or so ago, I agree with Anderson on information that is a commodity (straight news), but for extreme niche or ultra-high-quality stuff, there is certainly a path to monetization. Even in our industry, look at the great job that SEOBook and SEOmoz have done with monetizing their toolsets.

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    David: Agree news has been a “commodity” now for awhile, but user experience around news can also differentiate in addition to niche and quality. See also: http://gesterling.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/is-time-going-the-way-of-life/

  5. Tim Cohn Says:

    Forgot this was an open beta…

    Top down free may ultimately move more hard copy units but bottom up free doesn’t work.

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