Free your content – and what will follow?

Earlier this week,an assembled panel of experts grappled with the possibilities and limitations of freeconomics, the concept that giving content and services away for free is the key to success in the future.

Taking Chris Anderson’s ground breaking article in Wired from last February (Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business), as the starting point, Azeem Azhar, Bruce Daisley, Nic Brisbourne, Victor Keegan, Charles Blake Thomas and Alan Patrick examined the free model, assessing whether it is sustainable and if companies struggling in an uncertain economic environment must now monetise or die. Looking further into the future, the panelwere forced to consider ifthe freeconomic model carries with it the genetic code of its own destructionwhich will see it collapse, just as the interest free card credit card model did.

While the panel discussed a variety of potential models for the future – Spotify(a big hit with everyone it seemed); Jeff Jarvis’ vision of “support from foundations and the public to pay for investigative journalism” at the Huffington Post; and the Radiohead model (“a publicity gimmick” according to Alan Patrick) – perhapsunsurprisingly there was no overall consensus, aside from Patrick’s assertion that “deep pockets are key” to the free model.

As I returned home however I was greeted by a timely reminder of another way – the good old fashioned premium model. As a Hackney resident I have a healthy curiosity for the works of Iain Sinclair. His latest book Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire is a warts and all celebration of Hackney’s eccentricities, tracing the routes of a variety of unlikely souls – including Joseph Conrad, Jean Luc Goddard, Orson Welles and Tony Blair – through some of the darker corners of the borough.

It came as something of a surprise then that I discovered in the London Review of Books, an advert for a limited first edition with an “etching and aquatint on moulin de gue” (!) retailing at £550. Publishers have of course never been slow to offer enhanced packages. What struck me as particularly interesting about this however was the contrast it offered to Victor Keegan’s earlier discussion about some of his recent cross-media book reading experiments. The Guardian journalist explained that last year he read a whole book on a laptop, describing it as “one of the worst experiences of my life”.

While free may offer one model for the future, media owners must also not ignore the premium model. With this in mind, The’s recent launch of premium, paid for content specifically tackling the emerging Chinese market (China Confidential) may represent a viable alternative to the free model. It may not be printed on moulin de gue, but its success or failure could do much to highlight the way forward.

Follow the IAB on Twitter

  • http://

    ‘Money makes the world go round.’

    “There is no such thing as a free lunch.’


    ‘Charity begins at home.’

  • Baz Yat

    I know exactly how you feel. It’s like you can feel them pushing against your tongue, or they just slip out before you realise it!