Chris Anderson wrote Free using the free Google Docs, on the free Linux operating system, and over a free wi-fi connection at a local coffeeshop. I even listened to the unabridged audiobook for free at Anderson’s website (www.longtail.com). Anderson certainly walks the walk and talks the talk.
Free has now been re-released as a paperback with a new preface by the author. Although it’s been re-subtitled How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing, Free is less a “how-to” business book than it is an economic treatise on the history and psychology of “free.”
Anderson delves into the history of “free” in the modern era, turning back the clock to Jell-O’s free cookbooks in the early 20th century. “Give away one thing to sell another,” he writes, defining the concept of a “loss-leader.” Anderson charts the “radical price” through its evolution to the modern-day digital economy. “Information wants to be free,” the saying goes. He uses basic economic theory to show how software, music, and other digital goods have seen their real prices drop to nothing online. When the cost of distribution is “zero,” the price will follow—whether the sellers of the goods want to see that happen or not.