Notes From Chris Anderson’s “The Future of Free” Talk

The first session at VidFest today was Wired editor Chris Anderson, talking about the power and inevitability of free. The following are my somewhat incomplete notes:

Free allows you to be profligate in your resources. It enables a massive global experiment.

Economics has very little to say about abundance and free. What are the economics of free?

Starts by talking about King Gillette, the guy who invented disposal razors. See his Wired article for all the details.

You give away something to establish a pattern of use and a lifetime of revenue. See also cell phones.

Wired costs $10 a year, less than 10% of what it costs them to produce the magazine. Writing a cheque indicates ‘an expression of true interest’.

The Wired model is ‘third party pays’. In this case, the third party is the advertiser.

How would the world change if electricity was free? You could desalinate water for no cost.

Three inputs that are becoming free in today’s world: processing power, storage and bandwidth.

Thus far, this is pretty much a live presentation of his Wired article.

Technologists need to make technology cheap, easy and ubiquitous. The world will tell us what it’s for.

A terabtye costs about $300 – $350. Anderson’s 9-year-old has twice the storage of Wired magazine. “The market price of storage is zero.”

The marginal cost of reaching an audience member is zero. The old economic model drove us to invent mass media on TV. Hence, “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Nobody loves Raymond. Everybody only likes Raymond.

“The things we share are relatively banal.” We disagree about the things we love–we love the things that mark us as individuals.

Today it costs 0.25 of a cent to stream a video to one person for one hour.

YouTube violates every of traditional television.

3-D printing is a physical example of ‘complexity is free’ moving into the physical world.

“In a competitive market, price falls to the marginal cost.” “Anything that can become digital, will become digital. And everything that is digital, will become free.”

New forms of free that leverage digital economics:

  • Freemium: give away 99% to sell 1%. See, for example Flickr’s basic and pro model.
  • Labour exchange: consumers create something of value in exchange for free goods and services. For example, Google’s 411 service provides voice recognition training for their software.
  • Gift economy: open source and Wikipedia.

Attention and reputation are the new scarcities.

He subsequently applies these ideas of free to games.

He’s a great speaker, very smart and engaging. Having read his article and blog, there wasn’t much new for me in this talk. Judging by the audience’s reaction, though, his ideas are very fresh for a lot of people.


  1. agreed totally about not much new. He did an excellent state-of-the-nation speech but I was disappointed that he didn’t take it to the necessary end in a talk like this: What it means for the people in the audience.

    It was much more The Past andCurrent of Free, and very little about The Future of Free.

    Still, engaging speaker with some nice anecdotes.

  2. I hadn’t realized that Wired had become so cheap.

    I’ve always been loathe to pay the exorbitant asking prices for magazines when they’re completely and utterly saturated with ads.

  3. The main reason to buy many magazines is FOR the ads, especially those that post their content online. That has always been true for many fashion (and especially bridal) publications, as well as for a variety of geeky magazines such as computer and photographic rags.

  4. Good liveblog! It was good to see you this past week (an unprecedented four events in a row). Lots of photos and the liveblog over on my blog. Have a nice weekend, Darren.

  5. Wired may be $10 for US residents, but it’s $40 for Canadian (unless there’s some sale that’s not on their website).

  6. My dear friend, I liked the irony-website.
    Isn’t it time you gave up your computerlife and got a real life yourself?


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