16 Responses

  1. seth godin
    seth godin July 1, 2009 at 7:02 am | | Reply

    I think the counter examples (like the Economist) highlight the astonishing changes that are going on (which starts with writing, but moves from there). It's easy to forget that just ten years ago, doing what you and I are doing right now was essentially impossible.

    The next generation of consumers can't imagine paying for a newspaper (subscriptions by 25 year olds are a tiny fraction of what they were for 25 year olds a decade ago) or a CD. Sure, I'm happy to pay (I pay for several newspapers a day) but is that the future?

    Editors are important, as I said. If you're paying for poetry, that's almost certainly what you're paying for, right?

  2. glecharles
    glecharles July 1, 2009 at 7:37 am | | Reply

    Seth, the containers may change and get cheaper, but it's the content that gives them value, and the creation and distribution of quality content isn't free. Traditional publishers will have to transform because technology forces reinvention, but as you note, editors are important and curated content has more value than a chaotic free-for-all.

    The internet may ultimately be cheaper than print, but the myth of “free” is part of the reason so many publishers are feeling the pain right now, thanks to illogical digital investments that are never going to pay off. (Many still believe email is free; it's not!) Will most newspapers disappear in the next 5-10 years? Probably; but so will the vast majority of websites, along with the vast majority of wannabe writers who think WordPress can turn them into the next Seth Godin.

    Thanks for stopping by with a comment. I remain a fan!

    PS: While you were commenting, I was tweaking the post a bit, including changing the Gladwell excerpt in the intro. Nothing significant, but wanted to make sure to point it out.

  3. Maria Schneider
    Maria Schneider July 1, 2009 at 10:21 am | | Reply

    Guy, I love the comparison to your poetry slam series. I just witnessed a very similar dynamic with the open submissions Flash Fiction 40 Contest I just ran on Editor Unleashed. Allowing open submissions and a popular vote led to chaos and mayhem (although it should be noted, I was impressed that the popular vote did pick some of the best stories).

    I asked for feedback after and many requested anonymity, a closed submissions process, and a less transparent ranking system if there was one at all. Many also noted they didn't have time to sort through all of the slush. In other words, back to old school! I don't truly think the world (at least the world of writers) is as ready, willing or able for a new transparent world of publishing as many would like to believe.

  4. glecharles
    glecharles July 1, 2009 at 11:03 am | | Reply

    The drama in the poetry slam scene was/is ridiculous. “Everybody can play” evolved into many sub-par “poets” becoming the most popular because they gamed the system, appealing to the lowest common denominator and delivering flashier performances. Kind of live action SEO! And the power struggles? Imagine a bunch of goldfish in a Mason Jar fighting for control. The future, indeed.

    Keen nailed it in his tweet: “winners in free economy are clever marketers like Godin, Anderson & myself. Neither fair nor fruitiful. Cheapening rather than enrichening.”

  5. Will Hindmarch
    Will Hindmarch July 2, 2009 at 12:59 pm | | Reply

    This continues to strike me as the difference between design — whether its a game or a government — and the utter mess of true free-form behavior. Free verse works because it still has the design of the language to use, but while total chaos may result in a culture it probably won't result in a civilization. We want a civilization, don't we?

    Wherever the rules and systems come from that determine what's Free and who gets paid, there will be rules. Free, after all, is a price, not a value. Something that is Free and worth little or nothing gets left on the freebie table (or in the trash, or on the floor). The value is getting something for Free is often in the *savings* — the fact that it's worth, usually to the consumer, much more than was paid. That worth has to come from somewhere.

  6. glecharles
    glecharles July 2, 2009 at 2:33 pm | | Reply

    Agreed; “free” still has to have a definable value or else it's worthless. In the freemium model it's the teaser; if freebie has no real value, there's no conversion. That applies whether it's a free sample of chocolate; a free issue of a magazine; or the freely available article that begat FREE in the first place (http://bit.ly/6c0YQ).

  7. Ben Atlas
    Ben Atlas July 4, 2009 at 11:32 pm | | Reply

    At least one thing we can all agree on. This debate hit the nerve. I am glad that I am not alone in my sentiments though.

  8. Ben Atlas
    Ben Atlas July 5, 2009 at 12:08 am | | Reply

    Let me just say that the Long Tail remained a nice theory.

  9. Michael
    Michael July 5, 2009 at 4:48 pm | | Reply

    I thought Malcolm was spot-on and I don't always agree w/ his reasoning or examples … I thought he was at his best in reviewing hte book as he provided “real” examples vs. pontificating around hypotheticals … there is so much junk out there today … unresearched, undocumented, non-evidenced … I have heard people quoting stats they read off a blog that are so off-base as to be comical (not to be dichotomous – there is some MSM stuff that is of poor quality as well – and blogs that are fantastic, but …) … the antipode here is that “you get what you pay for” … which, may not always be true, but is still alive in the content world as well … I think the free model has a place (see versioning, LinkedIn model, etc.), but it's not the whole model … at the end of the day, none of us are free anyway – we all make tradeoffs around liberty vs. security (e.g., zoning) and willingly sacrifice freedom for more important goals – info is no different.

  10. rob
    rob July 5, 2009 at 9:33 pm | | Reply

    The Economist is less interesting than people claim. Yep, it's doing well. But that's because a/ it's a 'specialist' publication (quite a few specialist/niche publications are still doing well) and b/ because it's a specialist publication specifically aimed at a class of older wealthy men for whom the price is insignificant and probably tax-deductable (if it's not paid for by the company.)
    Good on them. Certainly they provide some quality content. (How's the WSJ doing…?) But as a general model for the future of on-line media- unconvincing. (I'd like to think a brilliantly well-edited website for, eg, terrific short-stories, could also run a subscription model. But then you can get much of that for free at the New Yorker site.)

  11. glecharles
    glecharles July 5, 2009 at 10:02 pm | | Reply

    Advocates of “free” love vague pronouncements because real-world examples are limited to models that benefit initial investors and select middlemen, or hobbyists. There's no “economy” there. There's an interesting debate over on Fred Wilson's blog about it, to which Ben Atlas has contributed some smart comments: http://bit.ly/E3Fxf

  12. glecharles
    glecharles July 5, 2009 at 10:12 pm | | Reply

    The Economist is profitable, which is why is referenced so often. Even in the ad-supported land of “free” online, there are far more niche success stories than there are those working off the old network TV model of maximum eyeballs. The common denominator: quality content that's worth paying for.

  13. glecharles
    glecharles July 6, 2009 at 7:21 am | | Reply

    While the debate around it is valuable, FREE is just another flimsy theory to keep the speaking fees coming once Anderson was forced to admit “It’s hard to make money in the [Long] Tail.” http://bit.ly/q43zZ

  14. Ben Atlas
    Ben Atlas July 6, 2009 at 7:58 am | | Reply

    It seem that everyone who have spoken and this debate, all use one note that justifies the way they do things. This is a loud debate but it lacks rigor and not a single person gives any impression that they know how things will unfold. All they do is hold for dear life to the money making post they planted in the space.

  15. comradity
    comradity July 14, 2009 at 6:35 pm | | Reply

    Guy, I, too, am disappointed. The communication industry needs thought leaders who are interested in improving value. Mass media has responded to increased competition for audience by seeking the lowest common denominator. As Leo Burnett said – 'anyone can get your attention by walking in a room with a sock in their mouth.' The idea that new technology should be used to perpetuate the race to the bottom is just saying what so many hope is still true – “you don't have to give up on 'lightening in a bottle.'”

    The truth is there are more profitable possibilities. Subscriptions to premium channels grew to new record highs in 4th quarter 2008 while consumers were finally informed of the economic collapse that had been threatening for over a year. Consumers will pay for value. They know you get what you pay for.

    Contrary to Anderson's opinion that the Monty Python example demonstrates the power of free, I think it demonstrates that there is an opportunity to drive up the sales of a “Long Tail” brand to #2 sales on Amazon by reaching out to your fans. Sure they got a list of fans from YouTube. But there's lots of ways to engage fans to give you their names. Free is by no means the only or the best way.

    Sincerely, Katherine Warman Kern

  16. TheMUSEUMZazzleGifts
    TheMUSEUMZazzleGifts October 19, 2010 at 10:23 am | | Reply

    Children – here’s a new thought for you – first of all – the free thing is not new – in the 60’s we had free love – free drugs and what did it get us – revolutionaries in suites and dogma – so, lets move on to new toys – most of the art is a rehash – there are new waves of thought coming – 3D writing – art of expression – belief in now – maybe your grandchildren will understand – by the way, this is not suppose to make sense – your brain and attitudes are not ready for it.

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