Free by Chris Anderson

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Review: I bought this book hoping it would help me understand a little better the economics of the internet world. There’s no doubt that the internet was built around the concept of Free, but like with every other topic I’m interested in, I missed reading a systematic study about what (if anything) had changed, and how. This book does a decent job at it, but it wasn’t perfect.

It gives a historical account of Free, the different meanings it can have, and how people react to it. It goes into the web world and those that have benefited from it, and those who have not, and why. It starts off well, but after a while, I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again. It gets better again towards the end, but I struggled to keep going in the middle since not much was being added to the discussion.

Also, this felt very much like a one-sided account. Of course Free is good for many things and there is no way you can compete with it, but that doesn’t mean everyone benefits from it. The author gives as an example the singer Sheryl Crow, who according to him, should be thankful more people are listening to her songs for free, because they can afterward buy tickets to her concerts and merchandise. But he never talks about movies (and other industries, but I’m using this as an example). What should the movie industry do, if everyone expects to always see movies for free? The short answer throughout the book is “find another way to make money”, but that’s easier said than done.

Speaking from experience with friends and the like, it’s obvious people stop valuing things they get for free. A lot of people don’t care about the work that goes into making a movie, or a song, or a book. Granted, a lot of people do, but what I’m getting at is, you can’t just focus on the good things. Nowadays, lots of people expect others to work for free (internships, anyone?) while they themselves expect to be paid. Free isn’t all that simple.

Anyway, back to the book. I expected to see bit more from the other side of the discussion, and it was repetitive, but still, a decent book on the topic.

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