Sunday, April 27, 2008

Revisiting Chris Anderson

Here's a reprint of a post from June, 2007.

On Saturday, I watched Chris Anderson's speech at Book Expo America on Publishers Marketplace TV.

Regular readers of this blog will remember Chris Anderson. I did a three-part blog on Anderson's book The Long Tail last July, starting here and have mentioned him multiple times since.

Anderson was named one of Time's 100 most influential people earlier this spring. He has been the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine since 2001. He is in the middle of writing an upcoming book from Hyperion titled Free, which he hopes to finish by July, 2008. He came to BEA to talk about the book in which he explores the relationship of the Web and free content.

Anderson started by saying the Web is "the world's greatest word-of-mouth amplifier." The cost of distributing information on the Web is "almost free." The underlying technology of the Web has made it possible to have almost-free business models and revenue models built off advertising. Anderson says the philosophy of the Web started with the "open source" and cyber libertarianism movements--notions of openness tied to the concept of free. He points out that the lowering of barriers to entry on the Web results in an increase of the number of people on the Web.

The moderator asked Anderson how he saw this counter culture philosophy playing out in publishing.

Anderson said the philosophy of the web believes there is another economy beside the monetary one. He believes there is more to the world and to our lives and to culture than is just marketed through commercial forms. Accordingly, he says the Web understands the value of amateurs and the contributions they make for free. The Web understands that regular people can do extraordinary things by sharing their talents and skills for free.

As a magazine publisher, Anderson believes that "if the marginal cost of offering something close to zero, then the price should be zero." Price should follow cost. Wired is a great example. Since it costs virtually nothing to post information online, the website is free.

Similarly, radio, magazine and newspaper content is given away for virtually nothing because they make their revenues off advertising. Books are an exception to this. Books charge readers a price. However, he points out that it would be possible to offer a physical book supported by advertising. A book can cost $19.95 for an advertising-free copy or nothing for a copy that includes advertising.

Also, e-books cost close to zero to re-produce and could be offered for close to zero. You could also offer a page view model online that runs advertising alongside content for free. Or you could offer a downloadable book that is locked to all but specific readers.

As an example, Anderson retained the audio rights for his forthcoming book. He plans to provide code inside the physical book that will be available to people who purchase a copy. The code will allow those purchasers to assess the audio book online for free.

The moderator said, "Community is a big word right now. Is there a way to build community?"

Anderson responded, "It's a way to build audience. I want the maximum readership; I want to maximize my reach. The best way is to make something free. I want to define an audience. Meanwhile, my partners want to maximize their revenue."

Anderson established a blog, which I have added to the links on the right of my blog's page under "Other Helpful Links." It is He used his blog to turn audience into community.

When the ARCs of The Long Tail came out, Anderson offered one for free to any blogger who would provide an online review. He had 340 bloggers respond and those 340 reviews helped the viral word-of-mouth for his book.

Readers of this blog will remember that I was very enthusiastic about The Long Tail. I've frequently quoted it and am looking forward to seeing how the industry responds to the concepts Anderson is now presenting.

No comments: