Monday, October 19, 2009

"Free" advice from Wired's Chris Anderson

I don't commonly link to articles I've written, but I'm making an exception for "The Freeconomics of Speakonomics," which appears in the October issue of Speaker magazine. It's a feature about Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, from an interview we did shortly after his best-selling book Free came out.

My reason for posting is twofold:
  1. Chris responded to my interview request within two hours of being asked, and within another two hours, his assistant had provided a half dozen times for me to choose from. That kind of response time is incredibly unusual, and should be praised to the skies.
  2. Even though the story is targeted at professional speakers, there are some parallels and lessons for freelancers. As an entrepreneur, "free" is something that you can't ignore, but you can leverage to your advantage.
Whether you ultimately agree or disagree with Chris's conclusions, Free will challenge your assumptions about pricing and value. His blog, The Long Tail, is one of my regular reads for the same reason.


  1. Great article and insights but two thoughts.

    First, free has been around since the original Geico caveman bought the first policy. How Mr. Anderson has re-framed and adapted free for modern times is elegant and useful but I think free is overrated and generally more about desperation than inspiration for most people.

    Second, it's important to note whether Mr. Anderson did well with his drones/robotics company in which case the value of free coming from him might mean less; also if he is compensated in any way by BookTour.

    The comment about not protecting copyrights is a bit cavalier to me. Others have espoused the same theory which kind of de-values creativity and original thinking. Did he give away his plans and diagrams for drones for competitors to duplicate?

    He's great, article's great. Just saying, full disclosure and any hints of hypocrisy should be explored, exposed. (I have not yet read his book Free--it's too expensive--so he may go more into detail there. I did enjoy The Long Tail.)

  2. Ken, thanks for the thoughtful response. You are correct about how long giveaways have been around, and he delves into the history and taxonomy of free in significant detail. Speaker really wanted to focus on how professional speakers can apply the principles, hence the narrowish angle I took.

    As with any story that runs only 1500 words, lots of content ends up on the cutting room floor, and you've illuminated an example with your question: The drone co. does indeed give away the plans and charges market rates to build you one. He wasn't concerned in the slightest about piracy, and flat-out said, "You can make your own and compete with us, but we believe we create community." (Personally, I hear you loud & clear on the copyright aspect, but you can't fault the guy for practicing what he preaches.) He's definitely not a hippie saying everything should be free, rather a capitalist who's saying that it can serve a strategic purpose.

    BTW, although the text isn't available free anymore, you can still get the Audible version...and there's always the local public library, eh!

    Again, thanks for digging deeper into the topic and challenging my own assumptions.