"Free is More Complicated Than You Think"

Josh Wright —  1 November 2007

So says Scott Adams, creater of Dilbert and now author, in today’s WSJ.  The context might interest TOTM readers who’ve been following the Radiohead/ voluntary pricing discussions here and elsewhere:

A few years ago I tried an experiment where I put the entire text of my book, “God’s Debris,” on the Internet for free, after sales of the hard copy and its sequel, “The Religion War” slowed. My hope was that the people who liked the free e-book would buy the sequel. According to my fan mail, people loved the free book. I know they loved it because they emailed to ask when the sequel would also be available for free. For readers of my non-Dilbert books, I inadvertently set the market value for my work at zero. Oops.

So I’ve been watching with great interest as the band “Radiohead” pursues its experiment with pay-what-you-want downloads on the Internet. In the near term, the goodwill has inspired lots of people to pay. But I suspect many of them are placing a bet that paying a few bucks now will inspire all of their favorite bands to offer similar deals. That’s when the market value of music will approach zero.  That’s my guess. Free is more complicated than you’d think.

One response to "Free is More Complicated Than You Think"


    I’m not sure if this has been mentioned before, but Stephen King tried a similar experiement some years ago. He offered to publish chapters of a serialized novel on the Internet as long no less than 75% of the downloaders paid a $1 for each chapter. The goal was met on the first two chapters, but then downloaders began to exceed payers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Plant for the specifics.