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Free: The Future of a Radical Price

Chris Anderson · 5 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" by Chris Anderson.
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Amazon Summary
The New York Times bestselling author heralds the future of business in Free. In his revolutionary bestseller, The Long Tail, Chris Anderson demonstrated how the online marketplace creates niche markets, allowing products and consumers to connect in a way that has never been possible before. Now, in Free, he makes the compelling case that in many instances businesses can profit more from giving things away than they can by charging for them. Far more than a promotional gimmick, Free is a business strategy that may well be essential to a company's survival. The costs associated with the growing online economy are trending toward zero at an incredible rate. Never in the course of human history have the primary inputs to an industrial economy fallen in price so fast and for so long. Just think that in 1961, a single transistor cost $10; now Intel's latest chip has two billion transistors and sells for $300 (or 0.000015 cents per transistor--effectively too cheap to price). The traditional economics of scarcity just don't apply to bandwidth, processing power, and hard-drive storage. Yet this is just one engine behind the new Free, a reality that goes beyond a marketing gimmick or a cross-subsidy. Anderson also points to the growth of the reputation economy; explains different models for unleashing the power of Free; and shows how to compete when your competitors are giving away what you're trying to sell. In Free, Chris Anderson explores this radical idea for the new global economy and demonstrates how this revolutionary price can be harnessed for the benefit of consumers and businesses alike.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
Dec 30, 2021 · mch82 on Why Web3?
One reference is “Free” by Chris Anderson, https://www.amazon.com/Free-Future-Radical-Chris-Anderson/dp...

DHH has written about abundance as part of his approach to Rails, https://world.hey.com/dhh/i-won-t-let-you-pay-me-for-my-open...

The “Post-scarcity economy” article on Wikipedia lists a number of references, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-scarcity_economy

Generally, computing trends toward abundance. Computers are priced about the same, but do more each generation.

Karrot_Kream
Right but none of these folks were associated with the origins of the net or the web at all. They're people who either inferred post-scarcity through trends they saw or wanted to apply an ideology to the net and the web. DHH is the only technical person in that list.

The reason this distinction is important is because a lot of folks try to make the case that the ideological origins of computer networking were with an eye toward post-scarcity, but this seems incorrect to me. Instead it seems to be ideological anger that the internet is not supporting post-scarcity economics.

mch82
Tim Berners-Lee, “The Many Meanings of Open”, https://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/Open.html

> “The World Wide Web turns 25 next year. We have come a long way, but we must all continue to push for these various forms of openness in the appropriate places. Only then can we ensure that the Web is for everyone.”

While his essay doesn’t use the words “abundance” or “post-scarcity”, it gets pretty close. My guess is that the guy who gave the Internet away for free probably approaches technology from an abundance perspective.

> “…but this seems incorrect to me.”

I’m curious what has led you to the opinion these people are wrong? I’m interested to know about histories of the web that reflect a philosophy of scarcity.

Karrot_Kream
> While his essay doesn’t use the words “abundance” or “post-scarcity”, it gets pretty close. My guess is that the guy who gave the Internet away for free probably approaches technology from an abundance perspective.

Thanks for that essay. I actually didn't see anything that got close to post scarcity. The only point that seemed to touch on it was the point about Open Access but it seemed to be closely scoped to academic work.

> My guess is that the guy who gave the Internet away for free probably approaches technology from an abundance perspective.

Maybe? Giving things away for free doesn't lead to a post-scarcity mindset. Not every person that donated to charity or volunteers with their time thinks the world can get there either.

> I’m curious what has led you to the opinion these people are wrong? I’m interested to know about histories of the web that reflect a philosophy of scarcity.

It's hard because a "philosophy of scarcity" is pretty ill-defined. As early as 2016 [1] Berners-Lee was pushing the W3C to standardize web payments. And HTTP status code 402 Payment Required was in the HTTP spec since at least RFC 2068 [2] in 1997. So at least since then someone thought that the internet would be used to facilitate payment.

But that's enough uncertainty for me to comfortably say that the internet was not designed for (or even against) post scarcity in mind. Therefore there's no ideological connection between post-scarcity and the net or the web.

[1]: https://www.w3.org/blog/wpwg/2016/12/16/web-payments-tractio...

[2]: https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/html/rfc2068

mch82
You’re making the argument that if the web has a payments API/protocol then the community building the web can’t simultaneously aspire toward a future of abundance. That doesn’t make sense.

Some items, like tickets to the World Cup, are scarce. A payments API/protocol allows scarce items to be sold online. Presence of the API/protocol doesn’t prevent simultaneous distribution of abundant items online, or imply creators of the web are anything but pragmatic. Even the Free Software Foundation is pragmatic about people charging a fee for GPL software (e.g. sell a DVD with the software), as long as the GPL licensed source code is included. FSF hopes you’ll give away the DVD, but understands if you choose not to.

It seems like the idea that people are working toward abundance really bothers you. How come?

Karrot_Kream
> You’re making the argument that if the web has a payments API/protocol then the community building the web can’t simultaneously aspire toward a future of abundance. That doesn’t make sense.

Oh I'm not saying folks cannot aspire toward abundance. I'm only saying that the technology didn't have abundance in mind when creating the net or the web.

> It seems like the idea that people are working toward abundance really bothers you. How come?

I'm not against that at all. A lot of arguments against Blockchain technologies seem to be that "the web used to be about abundance and Blockchain tech is against that so it's against the idea of the web as a whole." It's an argument designed around a narrative of a rug pull (e.g. it used to be abundant and now it's not) as opposed to a more realistic narrative that "we wish to bring the web to an abundance state and Blockchain technologies don't share that wish" which is an accurate but much more mild claim. I just want it to be clear that there was no solid historical basis for abundance in computer networking so that activists do not change history for stronger claims and that such claims (for or against abundance mind you) are ideologically motivated.

Chris Anderson wrote a book on these sort of "pricing" systems: _Free: The Future of a Radical Price_ [1].

Worth a read if you're into this idea. It includes some interesting historical examples of creative selling.

Can't say I _agree_ with the book, but glad I read it.

1. https://www.amazon.com/Free-Future-Radical-Chris-Anderson/dp....

This does not cover the "Free" tactic that was used to make Jell-O actually penetrate the households.

That story can be read in the book "Free" by Chris Anderson: http://www.amazon.com/Free-The-Future-Radical-Price/dp/14013... (pages 7-10, available in the book preview)

Yes, there's a lot of heat over Chris Anderson's "Free: The Future of a Radical Price". I had no idea how much - nor had bother to look at the occasional link here, so I appreciate RWW pulling together the players:

- The book: http://www.amazon.com/Free-Future-Radical-Chris-Anderson/dp/...

- Gladwell's NYTimes rev: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/07/06/09070...

- Mike Masnick's TechDirt take: http://techdirt.com/articles/20090701/0422125421.shtml

- Fred Wilson at AVC: http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/07/freemium-and-freeconomics.ht...

- Mark Cuban at BlogMaverick: http://blogmaverick.com/2009/07/05/the-freemium-company-life...

- Brad Feld's thoughts: http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2009/07/would-you-want-it-if...

I especially appreciate the tip look where I might not have bothered: Wilson's post, who "identifies the two instances when Free actually works. The first instance is the service or software that offers a free trial and then converts users into paying customers. There are different flavors of this approach, the most popular being, give the basic version for free and charge for the advanced version."

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