Stephen Colbert brought Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson onto the show last night to talk about his new book, Free, the Future of a Radical Price. In the book, Anderson explains how digital distribution enables many products, such as music and movies, to be given away for next to nothing. Rather than try to force customers to pay up, Anderson posits that companies should give away their most popular products for free, and make money by charging for niche content that has a strong appeal to individual customers. VentureBeat already does this, as do most other commercial websites: We give away our blog posts for free, and hope that advertisers will pay us to place ads next to them. VentureBeat also makes money through conferences like MobileBeat, for which our content draws participants and attendees.
Colbert’s welcome: “You are the author of a book called Free, and it costs $26.99. Well done, my man!” If Anderson had his way, the book would be free and he’d make lots of money from public speaking engagements generated by the free book’s wider audience.
Colbert is ruthless in this six-minute interview, but it’s obvious he actually gets the ideas Anderson is hawking. So much so, that he hits at two weak points in Anderson’s vision of a reputation economy: First, mainstream media celebrities like Colbert still have hundreds of times more popular recognition and economic value than even an A-list web celeb like Anderson. Second, the most effective means of monetizing your personal brand is by endorsing products and services. Are you sure you want to use your personal voice to hawk a product you don’t use?
(Disclosure: Paul Boutin is a contributor to Wired. He does not yet write for Free.)
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