Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson offers a sneak preview of his next book, Free!, with a cover story in this month’s issue of the magazine (which he’s convinced Condé Nast to give away 10,000 copies of) about “why $0.00 is the future of business.”
“It’s now clear that practically everything Web technology touches starts down the path to gratis, at least as far as we consumers are concerned. Storage now joins bandwidth (YouTube: free) and processing power (Google: free) in the race to the bottom. Basic economics tells us that in a competitive market, price falls to the marginal cost. There’s never been a more competitive market than the Internet, and every day the marginal cost of digital information comes closer to nothing.”
Anderson’s article does not directly address the publishing industry, but of course we’ve been grappling with the issues he raises for some time, as well as contemplating our own variations on the models he sketches out, from using premium-edition books to subsidize basic-version handouts to placing ads in free ebooks to giving content away and then upselling readers on other content or services.
Major publishers are gradually starting to embrace the power of free, and seeing how it can work for them: After more than a million people downloaded Suze Orman‘s Women & Money from the Oprah Winfrey website in less than two days, the book continued to sell well, even experiencing an uptick. The critics who warned us that giving content away would rot the book community from within are becoming more and more marginal every day.