Free : An Idea
I am waiting for Chris Anderson's new book, FREE, which is scheduled to release in Britain on the 2nd of July.
Obviously, I, like countless others, found the idea of Long Tail, the last big idea from Chris Anderson, lovable and this changed the way I looked at business possibilities. Countless niche-s making a comeback, and I supplemented it with an interesting study of Microtrends.
I obviously read the article last year on WIRED where Chris introduced the idea of FREE. [Read it here]
Intriguing idea, to say the least, and indeed, if you are incredulous, look at Google. Just that we don't feel comfortable about it. Even the idea that most of world's information may become free does not make consultants comfortable. Does not help the celebrities too, or the newspapers, which are struggling to become unfree. So, it is not an idea people are going to love. But, then, as we know, this is happening.
The question is - can this happen in a big scale? Chris Anderson obviously think it can, and Google proves that this can be a business model. However, there are at least three reasons I can think of, which will come in the way.
One, contrary to what Chris thinks, we live in the age of scarcity, not abundance. Go to an underdeveloped country and give out something free, and see what happens. You will immediately see a different gatekeeper mechanism emerging - instead of price, it will be muscle or influence - and the distribution will be skewed. However, we all know this - the question is whether we can actually reach the age of abundance at all. One interesting thought is that we can - the scarcity is mostly created and we can indeed unlock the doors of global abundance, if we want to. This is a concept which social thinkers have looked at for many centuries. However, capitalism can not deliver this, as we know, because it talks about maximizing individual gains, even if reaches a level where it does not matter anymore.
Two, the whole works of the Intellectual Property Rights will come on the way too. Not that it makes sense, it does not. But a structural adjustment is painful and disrupts. That's the word - disruption! And, no one likes that, unless that is forced on them. In fact, information has only become more 'unfree' in the modern age, despite its abundance. This is primarily because of the agency structure we have systematically put in place over the years. This will be hard to dismantle.
Three, while the distribution and production costs of many items reduce, social and environmental costs will go up. Increasingly, it will be necessary for us to account for those costs. Climate will prove to be the final constraint, one that can not be overcome. This will put a limit to abundance and return us to scarcity. This will stop everything from becoming free, even if we have solved the distribution and structural issues.
However, FREE remains an interesting idea to be implemented in business, and we shall hopefully see more free services in the coming days.