Monday, November 05, 2007

"Free is more complicated than you think"

a very insightful article from O'Reilly Radar

Peter Brantley sent a link to a great summary of Scott Adams' nuanced discussion of the tradeoffs in making Dilbert freely available on the web . The punchline: "Free is more complicated than you think."

Adams reports that putting Dilbert online for free

"gave a huge boost to the newspaper sales and licensing. The ad income was good too. Giving away the Dilbert comic for free continues to work well, although it cannibalizes my reprint book sales to some extent, and a fast-growing percentage of readers bypass the online ads with widgets, unauthorized RSS feeds and other workarounds."

This sense of tradeoffs in making content freely available is consistent with our experience at O'Reilly. We find that making a book freely available can help visibility and sales of a book on a little-known topic, but for a well-known topic or author, who benefits little from the additional exposure (like Scott Adams), it can have a slight cannibalization effect on print sales. So, as a beginning science fiction author, Cory Doctorow used "free" to build his career, while Stephen King found the results of his experiments with free to be disappointing. (I explored these tradeoffs in my article Piracy is Progressive Taxation.)

The point is that we need more than one model. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Advertising is a great model for people who can create or collect content that will generate sufficient traffic to pay for itself on the limited revenue per view provided by advertising. But that takes far more traffic than most people realize. Asking people to pay works well when the potential audience is smaller, and the cost of creating the content greater than can be recouped by advertising. But even then, you need to use "free" to some extent to make sure people find your content. If content is locked up too tightly, it drops out of the internet conversation.

read the full article here

via O'Reilly Radar

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