Better than free

One of the quotes I posted the other day was the following:

“The only people who have anything to fear from free software are those whose products are worth even less.” — David Emery

Today I’ve read Kevin Kelly’s (founding executive editor of Wired) post titled “Better Than Free”, analyzing the value of information sharing in the Internet. How do you make a business (or just provide an interesting service) when everything can be found for free?

I think his answer is as a simple as brilliant: “When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable. When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied”.

So, what can’t be copied?

This is a summary of his answer:

  • Immediacy — Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released — or even better, produced — by its creators is a generative asset.
  • Personalization — A generic version of a concert recording may be free, but if you want a copy that has been tweaked to sound perfect in your particular living room — as if it were preformed in your room — you may be willing to pay a lot.
  • Interpretation — As the old joke goes: software, free. The manual, $10,000. But it’s no joke. A couple of high profile companies, like Red Hat, Apache, and others make their living doing exactly that.
  • Authenticity — You might be able to grab a key software application for free, but even if you don’t need a manual, you might like to be sure it is bug free, reliable, and warranted.
  • Accessibility — Ownership often sucks. You have to keep your things tidy, up-to-date, and in the case of digital material, backed up. And in this mobile world, you have to carry it along with you. Many people, me included, will be happy to have others tend our “possessions” by subscribing to them.
  • Embodiment — At its core the digital copy is without a body. You can take a free copy of a work and throw it on a screen. But perhaps you’d like to see it in hi-res on a huge screen? PDFs are fine, but sometimes it is delicious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper, bound in leather. Feels so good.
  • Patronage — It is my belief that audiences WANT to pay creators. Fans like to reward artists, musicians, authors and the like with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect. But they will only pay if it is very easy to do, a reasonable amount, and they feel certain the money will directly benefit the creators.
  • Findability — Where as the previous generative qualities reside within creative digital works, findability is an asset that occurs at a higher level in the aggregate of many works. A zero price does not help direct attention to a work, and in fact may sometimes hinder it. But no matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless.

Enlightening.

(Seen at Seth Godin’s blog.)

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