Many critics were let down that Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson was not The Long Tail: Part 2. I understand the disappointment, but this book takes a different tack. Rather than the unknown future, Free is more about the unknown past. It is an analysis of “free” pricing and non-monetary markets since the 19th Century. Cataloguing and categorizing the usages of “free”, Anderson connects the economic history of the pre-digital age with today’s economics of digital abundance as he first described in The Long Tail. In that sense, it is a sequel.
Anderson tries to get across to a popular audience that “economics” is not all about money changing hands. He tries to establish non-monetary economies in the popular imagination. This will come as no surprise to academics of the dismal science, and the internet-savvy and tech-hounds will already be familiar with Freemium pricing, link and reputation economies — these are part and parcel of growing up with the OneNet that Binds Us. But for those of us raised on the teat of ethernet cables and WiFi, the historical uses of free make an interesting contextual picture of just how far we have come merely in the last decade.
One thing missing from the book is a comparative analysis of the various economies. Anderson does not even go so far as to say that such economies are equivalent, just legitimate. At this point, I think that is the best as he can do. Metrics for measuring non-monetary economies (such as links on the internet) — though not necessarily entirely new — have only become trackable in recent years. Since Mr Anderson tends to release a new book every five years, I am sure he already has the sequel in mind.
Anderson, Chris. Free: the Future of a Radical Price. New York: Hyperion, 2009.
Audiobook downloadable FOR FREE from the US iTunes Store. See Chris Anderson’s blog longtail.com.