Free and the medium vs. the message

Valuable lessons from "Information Wants to Be Shared"

I wrote a short piece earlier about an interesting ebook from HBR by Joshua Gans. It’s called Information Wants to Be Shared and I’m declaring it the must-read ebook of 2012. If you buy it direct from HBR’s website and use the code ADINFO1 you’ll only pay 99 cents, btw.

I spoke with Joshua and his editor and, true to the promise of the title, they’ve given me permission to share many of the longer excerpts I highlighted while I read the book. This is the first of what will be a two- or three-part series with those highlights.

Free as in freedom (and beer)

Have you ever thought about how DRM and other restrictions negatively impact the value a consumer places on your content? Here’s what Gans has to say about it:

When consumers acquire information, they want to be free to use it in a form they choose. This might mean transferring music between computers, but it also may mean editing a song to use in a home movie. This also makes information (in this case, music) more valuable, which is why, when constraints were lifted, the price of music could increase.

So even though publishers whine about the pressure to lower prices when content is delivered electronically they actually have themselves to blame for a big part of the situation. Give up the DRM, trust your customers, let them use their content as they want and there will be less pressure for cheaper ebooks.

Information and delivery

Gans goes on to quote Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator:

Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. Economically, the print media are in the business of marking up paper.

Gans then says:

The point here is that publishers and other content providers can benefit from envisaging what their business models would look like if they considered themselves in the delivery business rather than the information business. In other words, if information were actually free, how would they provide value to consumers that consumers would pay for?

Isn’t that a kick in the shorts?! After all these years of publishers saying it’s about the content not the delivery we’re challenged to re-think our industry based on information being free. Aren’t we partway there already? After all, Google is a bigger competitor for most of us than other publishers. So what will your revenue stream look like when all the information your customers needs is free (and/or shared)?

P.S. — Joshua Gans is scheduled to speak at TOC NY 2013 in February. Use the discount code below to save 15% on your registration.

TOC NY 2013 — The publishing industry will gather at the Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York City, February 12-14, to explore the forces and solutions that are transforming publishing.

Save 15% on registration with the code COMM15

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