Chris Anderson (The Long Tail) is out with a free preview of his next book on the concept of certain kinds of things "wanting to be free." You can read his article right here. I referred to the idea previously in Uncopyable Values, and this is a really important concept to understand.
Basic idea? In the past some things were "free" because you bought another item (think razor blades). Today the shift is to another kind of free. Think email storage, youtube, the New York Times online, etc.
So if things truly "want to be free" how does anyone charge for anything? There are things that become more valuable, like reputation and attention, and those things aren’t free. You can read more about this in Uncopyable Values.
Anderson’s article on free is an interesting concept, packed with ideas that are important for all of us. I particularly found these two paragraphs helpful:
is not the only scarcity in the world. Chief among the others are your
time and respect, two factors that we’ve always known about but have
only recently been able to measure properly. The "attention economy"
and "reputation economy" are too fuzzy to merit an academic department,
but there’s something real at the heart of both. Thanks to Google, we
now have a handy way to convert from reputation (PageRank) to attention
(traffic) to money (ads). Anything you can consistently convert to cash
is a form of currency itself, and Google plays the role of central
banker for these new economies.
There is, presumably, a limited supply of reputation and attention
in the world at any point in time. These are the new scarcities — and
the world of free exists mostly to acquire these valuable assets for
the sake of a business model to be identified later. Free shifts the
economy from a focus on only that which can be quantified in dollars
and cents to a more realistic accounting of all the things we truly value today.
I don’t understand it all…but I know it applies to what all of us do. In a way it has to do with the reallocation of what matters, "a realistic accounting of all the things we truly value today."
You can read the whole article right here.