Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How 'Freeconomics' Will Change the Media World

When you think about it, there really are three kinds of free. There's the free we've known forever, which is the King Gillette razor-and-blade model, which is a form of cross-subsidy. A spin-off of that model is the media model, where the product is free because it's subsidized by the advertiser. That's called a three-party market -- the publisher, the advertiser and the consumer who gets everything for free.

The second kind of free is this weird kind of the free that's never existed before, simply because cost goes to nothing. Moore's Law said processing would get cheaper every year, but there are corollaries for bandwidth and storage. As the price gets closer and closer to zero, you can eventually just treat it as free.

Hotmail started with a tiny amount of storage for free and then you had to pay for the rest. By 2000 to 2002, you were getting more. Then Gmail said, "We're going to give away one gigabyte for free," and revolutionized the market. Yahoo said, "We'll give them infinite storage. We'll use that to reinforce people's connection with Yahoo and make the money somewhere else, maybe banner ads on Yahoo News, maybe just the information you get from people's user behavior that allows you to charge more for ads."

The third model of free is the gift economy. This is what used to be called freaky, Berkeley, hippy-commune stuff and now is the basis for Wikipedia, the blogosphere, Craigslist. There is a real economy out there that is motivated by nonmonentary consideration such as reputation, attention, expression -- all the social incentives that are turning out to be incredibly effective in getting people to do things for free. Before we didn't have a platform on which they could work.


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