In a recent article, Malcolm Gladwell articulates an impressive argument explaining why Chris Anderson is wrong in his new book - “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”. Malcolm’s article led to this blog post by Seth Godin.
For the record, I’m a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell and his awesome work. Also, Chris forgot to send me a copy of his new book for review, so I’m admitting that I’ve yet to read it. Regardless, for this discussion, reading it isn’t necessary.
Here’s why Malcolm is wrong:
First, he spends much time discussing YouTube, and the fact that it’s failed to make a profit for Google. Unfortunately, Malcolm entirely misses the point as he uses this example to shoot holes in Chris’s argument. The only real reason YouTube has failed to make a profit for Google is because businesses are too slow to adapt to new marketing. YouTube is nothing more than attention. It’s an awesome place for right-brained business people to create new ways of being noticed. My company is already having success marketing on YouTube. Give it time and YouTube will be turning a huge profit for Google.
Second, Malcolm lists a number of examples where the Free model isn’t being used and success is found, but again, he misses the point. Free is about attention, free turns heads, free can get you noticed. Free isn’t about what’s working or isn’t working today. You can fight the rule of Free all you like, but Free is sort of like gravity, you’ll spend much more energy working against it than you will working with it.
Third, and this is the main reason I believe Malcolm is wrong. Because he doesn’t want Chris's law of Free to be right. How often have we seen it? Business leaders everywhere have refused to accept the changing nature of the world, the evolving tribal nature of people on the Net. Just like many other people, Malcolm is afraid. He’s watching the world as he’s known it change faster than any of us are truly ready to admit.