Perhaps you too read (about) Malcolm Galdwell's disagreeing review on Chris Anderson's new book: “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” and perhaps you agree with Seth Godin's opinion of the review: "Malcolm is wrong".
I've been thinking of the concept 'free' even more since I've read Seth's post and Glaswell's review. According to Anderson's new book (not free ;-)) because of enhanced and advanced technology, IT infra-structure more and more products/services can be offered for free. Gladwell states that's rather utopian thinking: IT infra-structures aren't free (he points towards YouTube), nor is the infra-structure to deliver cheaper and cheaper power.
Seth on the other hand points towards the unlimited advancement of 'free' information: "In the world of free, everyone can play".
I've read Gladwell's Tipping Point, Anderson's The Long Tail and plenty of Seth's books. I also read Dan Ariely's "Predictable Irrational" (great read, really recommend it to everyone). This book is mentioned too in Galdwell's review of Anderson and in Anderson's new book. What Ariely's experiment shows IMHO that even free has a perceived value, depending to what the free item is compared.
And it is that perceived value I think will always be "top of the bill" - not "Free":
- perceived value of free advice: if it's free there is hardly any commitment to implement the free advice, no matter who gives it out
- perceived value of that one single precious item that will never be infinite: time.
People will pay for content if it is so unique they can't get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people.
In my humble opinion and experience as retailer of physical products who sees a tremendous increase in the sale of our 'digital products' (digital delivered PDF guides on various aspects of our trade, how to... etc) it is and always will be:
People will pay for content if it is perceived coming from an expert and saving them time to find and implement quickly what they are after (advice or training).
In the world of free, everyone can play is correct: where 'everyone' are those who are able to turn free information into knowledge and they can now play and profit in the world too, where before only those with expensive publication channels could play (and profit).