I was browsing Amazon’s Kindle Store the other day, and I noticed a book that I’d read about in the New Yorker a few weeks back. It was Free: The Future of a Radical Price, by Wired editor Chris Anderson. The basic idea behind Free is that information wants to be free, and with the Internet, mostly, it has to be. “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win,” Anderson writes. I haven’t read the book, and the New Yorker review by Malcolm Gladwell, was not entirely positive for reasons I won’t go into here. (Incidentally, the review’s available online in its entirety. For free.)
But. The point is, I was browsing Amazon not long after reading about this book, and there it was, the digital Kindle version. Selling for, you guessed it, nothing. And I thought, “Ha! Clever book marketing! See the book’s called Free, see, and, get it? It’s free! And that was the end of it. I continued browsing.
It turns out, that it was indeed clever marketing, but the $0 price tag has little to do with the title of the book. An AP story I came across today revealed that a number of publishers are giving away e-books as a promotional tool. Say, for example that an author comes out with a new book. The publisher might offer the digital version of the author’s previous title for free to boost actual sales of the new book. Apparently it’s working. It would seem that Chris Anderson was onto something.
I thought back to that free version of Anderson’s book, and it occurred to me that despite the fact that it was absolutely free, I didn’t download it to read on my iPhone. (No doubt there are economic principles at work here, but alas, I dropped out of my college econ class, so you won’t be hearing them from me.) After reading the AP story I wondered whether I’d made a mistake not downloading Free since the price of information is an issue that will no doubt affect me in the future as an author and/or journalist. I went back to Amazon, and found that the “force of economic gravity” had been reversed and the book was now selling for $9.99 like most other Kindle editions.
On a somewhat related note, it looks like Kindle is getting a rival. Sort of.