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February 28, 2008

The Future Is Free

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Inspiration

Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson has a book coming out next year titled FREE (Hyperion) and the sneak peek is fascinating. Anderson argues that the future of business is all about zero.

The rise of "freeconomics" is being driven by the underlying technologies that power the Web. Just as Moore's law dictates that a unit of processing power halves in price every 18 months, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. Which is to say, the trend lines that determine the cost of doing business online all point the same way: to zero.

As much as we complain about how expensive things are getting, we're surrounded by forces that are making them cheaper. Forty years ago, the principal nutritional problem in America was hunger; now it's obesity, for which we have the Green Revolution to thank. Forty years ago, charity was dominated by clothing drives for the poor. Now you can get a T-shirt for less than the price of a cup of coffee, thanks to China and global sourcing. So too for toys, gadgets, and commodities of every sort. Even cocaine has pretty much never been cheaper (globalization works in mysterious ways).

Ad agencies have already been following this free model for the last few decades because they give away the ideas and sell the execution. I've griped about this model before and it does need fixing. I am curious to see how this thinking will transform service-sector businesses and the nonprofit sector. I wonder if...

  • Sinks and toilets will be free but the plumber you use to install them will be highly specialized and priced accordingly.
  • Entertainers will work for free and make money off their celebrity (concerts, appearances, premium products).
  • Designers and writers will give away their "craft" and we'll pay to make it our own (book, picture, game, wrapping paper, couch cover).
  • Nonprofits will be more like connecting agencies. Instead of raising money they will identify the places that have X and need Y and the places that have Y and need X and bring them together.

This could get exciting.

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