There are so many great books on my reading list that moving Chris Anderson's "Free" to the top was not something I was all that excited about. In the tech marketing business it is hard to go a week without someone referencing his book however, so to the top it went. I really liked "The Long Tail" and therefore had no justifiable reason to read it begrudgingly. Turns out it is quite good.
I do not ordinarily read with a pen or pencil in my hand. I used to underline things but found I never went back and used the markings so why bother. About 30 pages into Free I found I had 10 pages dog eared and got out my pencil. Just about every page in the book now has a note on it. The book is very well researched, easy to read, and full of great quotes I will want to find easily. The exercise of reading Free also added half a dozen other books to my reading list.
No small part of my reluctance to read the thing was based in the thought that I already knew what he was going to say. Free drives traffic, traffic is value, value converts to dollars some other way...example, example, example, done. While the book does follow this framework, it is much more interesting than that. I had heard many other arguments that the new currencies of attention and reputation were more valuable than dollars, but this book makes the idea pop and then locks it in with solid facts and a convincing cast of supporters.
The author tackles the critics head on and even devotes a chapter to a list of many arguments against the idea of Free and then crisply refutes them one by one. Now there is a limit of course. I am pretty sure I know what would happen should I call up the IRS and suggest that living in this country should be free.
Clearly everything cannot be free, but Chris Anderson does a good job of articulating why some businesses are better off adopting the model.
The two current high profile tests of this idea: Rupert Murdoch against Google, and the New York Times 2011 pay wall decision, happened after the publishing date; and both the NY Times and the WSJ are cited numerous times. These new developments do not take away from the book, and somehow even make the reading seem even more relevant.
Here are some other very good reviews. All of them come in on the too good to be true side. I will post a rebuttal at some later date because I am in the middle of a couple of other contra argument books and I want to give both sides equal time before I conclude anything dramatic.
The New Yorker
NY Times Book Review
Here is a link to the book on Amazon.