Malcolm Gladwell to Chris Anderson: No “Free” Lunch

June 29, 2009
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Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, offers a scathing review of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, the recently written book by Chris Anderson. He doesn’t even mention the plagiarism scandal. Instead, he attacks the book’s thesis, which he characterizes as “an extended elaboration of Stewart Brand’s famous declaration that ‘information wants to be free’.”

Some choice excerpts concern YouTube as a case study:

Anderson is forced to admit that one of his main case studies, YouTube, “has so far failed to make any money for Google.”

“close enough to free” multiplied by seventy-five billion is still a very large number.

If [YouTube] were a bank, it would be eligible for TARP funds.

Ultimately, Gladwell dismisses Anderson as a “technological utopian.” That’s harsh, but I think it’s on target. There’s nothing new in proclaiming that we all wish everything were free. But there’s a lot of hand-waving in Anderson’s argument that…



Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, offers a scathing review of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, the recently written book by Chris Anderson. He doesn’t even mention the plagiarism scandal. Instead, he attacks the book’s thesis, which he characterizes as “an extended elaboration of Stewart Brand’s famous declaration that ‘information wants to be free’.”

Some choice excerpts concern YouTube as a case study:

Anderson is forced to admit that one of his main case studies, YouTube, “has so far failed to make any money for Google.”

“close enough to free” multiplied by seventy-five billion is still a very large number.

If [YouTube] were a bank, it would be eligible for TARP funds.

Ultimately, Gladwell dismisses Anderson as a “technological utopian.” That’s harsh, but I think it’s on target. There’s nothing new in proclaiming that we all wish everything were free. But there’s a lot of hand-waving in Anderson’s argument that cheap is  “close enough to free to round down.” I encourage you to read Gladwell’s eloquent and entertaining review here.  Anderson’s response is here.

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