Longest post title for me to date? Maybe. Gonna be a long post, too. Anyway…
Some weeks ago, I was one of a couple dozen people that each received four copies of Chris Anderson’s latest book, “Free — The Future of a Radical Price.” The deal was that I keep one to review and pass the others on to folks who would do the same.
The copies went to Paula Berinstein, Ginger Campbell and Mark Leslie LeFebvre, whose review has already appeared. Paula plans on doing a big episode of The Writing Show dedicated to the book, and I think Ginger’s going to actually try to get Chris on her Books and Ideas podcast.
What’s been keeping my own review?
Astute readers (at least the ones who actually visit my site when they read this blog) will notice that I’ve got a little “We’re Renovating” ribbon in the upper right-hand side of the site. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly adding some new content, changing a few things around and doing some other structural adjustments that will culminate in a new look for the site to go along with all that other stuff.
Before I posted by thoughts about “Free — The Future of a Radical Price,” I wanted to have a few of those changes in place. What changes, you ask? Let’s talk about “Free” first.
The Big Idea
Chris Anderson’s “Free — The Future of a Radical Price” explores the trend that, as the price of online storage and bandwidth gets less expensive, so too does the price of digital goods. The point made is that the cost is so low, in fact, it’s “too cheap to meter,” and so the goods themselves are either offered for free… or, often, the marketplace demands them to be free in the form of illegal file sharing and piracy.
This is simple economics. For example, I pay less than $0.02 per gigabyte of monthly bandwidth and less that $0.30 per gigabyte of storage per year, and I’m not even on the least expensive plan my provider offers. My entire web site’s storage needs cost less than seventeen cents a month. I can store and deliver hundreds of thousands of words of content, plus dozens of megabytes of electronic media, for much less than pennies per day. For larger online entities, the expense per gigabyte sinks even faster.
It costs me literally next to nothing to make my content available to you, and I lose nothing by making some of that content available for free.
Anderson’s book examines Free as a marketing strategy both historically and in light of the economics of on-line storage and delivery. He also looks at some of the side effects, including an ecosystem that has come to expect digital goods be either very inexpensive or free because the consumer knows distribution and manufacturing expenses don’t enter into the equation when the goods are made of electrons.
Critics blame this expectation of Free on the decline of the music and newspaper industries, among others. Some folks extend the observations Anderson makes to being tantamount to expecting content creators not be compensated for their efforts.
Criticism, especially when it comes from high-profile friends of the author, drives discussion and no doubt sells books. Thing is, unless it slipped past my comprehension, I don’t remember Anderson advocating content creators work for free. More on that, especially how it pertains to my own work, in a bit.
Forms of Free
Anderson details a number of marketing strategies that include an element of free, and provides an example list, “Fifty Business Models Built On Free” that would make a handy .PDF giveaway (are you listening, Mister Anderson..?)
Many of my friends and colleagues embrace at least one of these to great effect: provide a podcast version of a book for free in the hope that folks will pay for the physical, print edition of same. This is what Anderson would call “Freemium (Some Customers Subsidize the Others.)”
There’s another way to look at this kind of thing, a model with a subjective, philosophical element. Known as neo-patronage, it is similar to the Freemium idea, but allows for the possibility that some consumers might assign a unique price tag to the same items, based on their personal assessment of value of that item. The consumer may even desire to subsidize the creator’s work as a whole.
More on that in a bit, too.
Not A Manifesto
Like “The Long Tail” before it, “Free — The Future of a Radical Price” isn’t out to influence what might come. Anderson’s not out to destroy mass media or take money out of the pockets of journalists — let’s face it, he’s a mass media journalist himself, after all. Rather, he’s written a book about what was and what is and extrapolated a bit. He’s provided a handy guide to creative entrepreneurs (and entrepreneurs whose specialty is creativity — like what Mark Jeffrey calls authorpreneurs, for example) on how to use Free to drive the success of their own careers.
I recommend “Free — The Future of a Radical Price” in that spirit. To those of us who have been doing this kind of thing for a while, the book is interesting and it fills in some historical blanks. For folks considering including an element of Free in their business, it may be educational and inspirational.
Now Let’s Talk About Me
As most of you know, since my layoff in October of 2008 a larger portion of my brain than I would like has been preoccupied with just how to make a living doing something challenging and enriching that doesn’t require me to ignore or compromise my ethics.
Meanwhile, I’ve taken some clients (and I’m always looking for more) that I help in a variety of ways that fall under the wide mandate printed on my business card: building on-line audience for creative endeavors.
I’ve also explored ways to monetize my own creative endeavors.
Of course there’s my book, “Brave Men Run — A Novel of the Sovereign Era,” available not just as a free podcast but also for sale in various e-book formats, paperback, MP3 CD, papyrus scroll, painting-with-light, skywriting and elder futhark editions. Late last year, I released the first in a series of short stories (three so far; more to come!) that I sell in e-book and limited edition chapbook formats. In January, I put on a “house concert” over live streaming video and gave MP3s of the set to folks who donated above a certain amount the day of the show.
The most ambitious of these experiments was “Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights,” my ongoing episodic serial fiction series that, from May 1st until August 1st 2009, was only available via paid subscription. I wrote about how that went, and why I decided the best thing for the success of “Hazy Days…” was to convert it to a free-to-read model with compensation coming entirely from neo-patronage.
A few things happened during the “Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights” experiment.
- I noticed other authors (mainstream and otherwise) doing serial fiction, some of them absolutely for free, some on a donation model, some with advertising, others with a combination of apporoachs. I had a great comments thread conversation with one of them, Alexandra Erin, that kind of got my wheels turning.
- In June, I announced the elimination of unaffiliated third-party advertising on this site and in my Twitter stream. I also announced some other changes I’d be making on the site “in the next few weeks” (turned into a couple of months) that involved my first real commitment to a neo-patronage model.
- I read a few things, like some of the material on Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity and, of course, “Free — The Future of a Radical Price.” I also read some of my own older blog posts, notes and stuff.
It’s all been percolating in my skull, until finally I made some decisions about my creative output, the potential audience for everything I do and my desire — no, it’s my belief — that I deserve to be compensated by people in exchange for the experiences I provide through my art.
It all gets boiled down to the new tag line in my e-mail signature:
Independent Creative Endeavors – Free To Experience – Supported By Patronage
Previously, the only things I really offered for free were the Brave Men Run Podcast, the e-book bundle edition of that book (with the option to contribute whatever you think it’s worth) and a few dozen MP3 music files.
Effective… well, several days ago… every short story, every serial installment, every piece of music and yes, every novel I create and make available to you will have at least one free version on this site.
Try it out — read every word of “Brave Men Run — A Novel of the Sovereign Era.” Or my latest short story, “The World Revolves Around You.” Or listen to and download anything from my slowly growing music archive.
Enjoy these things I’ve made. Experience them. Tell others about them. And if the experience has value for you, I hope you’ll compensate me for it by either buying the for-sale editions or simply gifting whatever you like. I offer suggestions on minimum amounts (around $5.00 for a book-length work, $0.99 for a short story or song) but I urge you to arrive at an amount that’s appropriate to you, based on several factors including but not limited to:
- How much you liked the book, short story, serial, song, what have you.
- How much you would like to support my creative endeavors as a whole — in other words, what kind of investment you would like to make in future opportunities for me to create things you might like.
- What you can afford.
This Is Neo-Patronage
I’ve explained the concept in the past. A brief re-cap: my idea of neo-patronage works like this:
- My creative endeavors include some form available for all to experience with no requirement of payment.
- A percentage of the people who experience my creative endeavors will have the means and the desire to compensate me.
- Of those who do, some will pay the amount I suggest. Others will pay less. Some will pay more.
- These people, together, are my patrons.
- With the gatekeeper of price removed, I open my work to the largest possible audience. The larger the audience, the larger the number of individual patrons and the larger my potential income.
There’s another element to this whole idea: that some people will want to support the artist (little old me) and not so much a particular story, novel, song, serial, etc. I suspect these folks may be few and far between, but I’ll soon have a way for the willing to do that on a one-time or automatically recurring basis. I’ll no doubt work out some kind of recognition system for these people as well.
More on that to come as I continue with renovations around the site. Mostly, I wanted to tell you that if you wanted to read something of mine but didn’t want to shell out for it first… now you can.
Tying It All Together; Bringing It All Back Home
At the end of the day, reading “Free – The Future of a Radical Price” didn’t rock my world or blast my head off with revelations. I’ve been incorporating some form of “Free” since the first time me and a friend busked at the base of the Huntington Beach pier with our guitar cases open in expectation at our feet, more than two decades ago. Chris Anderson is way, mega, totally preaching to the converted in my case.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t strayed now and then from really counting on Free. Things have been a little desperate — or, to be less melodramatic, the potential for really desperate times is a whole heck of a lot stronger than it was eleven months ago. I admit that my faith in Free and neo-patronage lapsed as my time spent without a “regular job” continued to stack days and weeks and months.
I’m re-committing, people. Ideally, I’d like to one day see a nice even split between income from clients and income directly from my creative endeavors (and of course I’d like the total to add up to a living wage..!) We’ll see what happens.
As always, I’m grateful that you’re all there with me as the story unfolds! I look forward to your comments, ideas, suggestions and opinions on this whole gignormous post.