Free thinking

Andrew and I have continued to discuss the implications of my “open source” Christian music idea.

Clearly both sides of the argument contain truths – particularly when applied to Christian music. Songwriters want their ideas spread as widely as possible, while they also need to be paid to write if they do it full time. There’s another paradigm to consider when it comes to whether or not God “owns” work produced through spiritual gifts. Then he’d own the intellectual property, and the copyright.

It’s part of a much bigger and broader argument about open source that’s going on in the upper echelons of thoughtful journalism – and a lot of the discussion is about the future of journalism and paid media in the context of the free media offered by the web.

Malcolm Gladwell – one of my favourite authors is engaged in a debate with Wired Magazine editor, and author of a book called “Free”, Chris Anderson.

Anderson wrote his book on the premise that “ideas and information” want to be “free”… that’s a nutshell summary.

Here’s Anderson’s take on music and the Internet as quoted in Gladwell’s review of the book (which was negative)…

“In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.” To musicians who believe that their music is being pirated, Anderson is blunt. They should stop complaining, and capitalize on the added exposure that piracy provides by making money through touring, merchandise sales, and “yes, the sale of some of [their] music to people who still want CDs or prefer to buy their music online.”

It’s a great article. Here’s another interesting passage from Anderson’s book, again quoted by Gladwell…

“Anderson describes an experiment conducted by the M.I.T. behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational.” Ariely offered a group of subjects a choice between two kinds of chocolate—Hershey’s Kisses, for one cent, and Lindt truffles, for fifteen cents. Three-quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. Then he redid the experiment, reducing the price of both chocolates by one cent. The Kisses were now free. What happened? The order of preference was reversed. Sixty-nine per cent of the subjects chose the Kisses. The price difference between the two chocolates was exactly the same, but that magic word “free” has the power to create a consumer stampede. Amazon has had the same experience with its offer of free shipping for orders over twenty-five dollars. The idea is to induce you to buy a second book, if your first book comes in at less than the twenty-five-dollar threshold. And that’s exactly what it does. In France, however, the offer was mistakenly set at the equivalent of twenty cents—and consumers didn’t buy the second book. “From the consumer’s perspective, there is a huge difference between cheap and free,” Anderson writes. “Give a product away, and it can go viral. Charge a single cent for it and you’re in an entirely different business. . . . The truth is that zero is one market and any other price is another.”

Gladwell’s critique cites YouTube as an example.

“Why is that? Because of the very principles of Free that Anderson so energetically celebrates. When you let people upload and download as many videos as they want, lots of them will take you up on the offer. That’s the magic of Free psychology: an estimated seventy-five billion videos will be served up by YouTube this year. Although the magic of Free technology means that the cost of serving up each video is “close enough to free to round down,” “close enough to free” multiplied by seventy-five billion is still a very large number. A recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube’s bandwidth costs in 2009 will be three hundred and sixty million dollars. In the case of YouTube, the effects of technological Free and psychological Free work against each other.”

Chris Anderson has since responded to Gladwell’s criticism on his blog. He uses blogging and bloggers getting book deals as a case study. Interesting stuff and worth a read. Seth Godin – the “guru” – has chimed in on the subject declaring Anderson right and Gladwell wrong. The Times Online’s tech blog predictably took the side of established journalism and declared Gladwell the winner.