I review Chris Anderson’s new bestseller in the latest issue of my newsletter, WordBiz Report. Subscribe here.

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Date: Aug. 25, 2009
Location: Coast of Maine
Subscribers: 9,092 cool peeps
Mood: Bittersweet end-of-summer. You?
Looking forward to: http://www.gov2summit.com/ (Sept. 9-10)
Stolen from: Silicon Valley bigshot Jason Calacanis

When I say “stolen from” I mean the idea of a few lines at the top
of an e-newsletter that give you choice coordinates from the publisher.
If you aren’t already reading it, I highly recommend Jason’s newsletter.
Jason is best known as the co-founder  of Weblogs, Inc., the CEO of
Mahalo (human-powered search) and the co-founder of TechCrunch50. 
His text-only missives to his mailing list are a great read if you’re 
interested in 1.) prognostications about Silicon Valley and all things tech
and 2.) you want to see an example of a well-written e-newsletter.

Sign up for his emails: https://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/jason

Follow Jason: http://calacanis.com/

So much for transparency and full disclosure (I *am* the original
guru of corporate blogging, right?!), what’s NEW in books this summer?

In this email
1. Books: Review of Chris Anderson’s FREE
2. My next book
3. Useful links

1. Books: Review of Chris Anderson’s FREE
Summer means books for me and I’ve got a wildly varied stack here in
Maine where I’ve spent most of July and August. Suffice it to say that
I’m both working and vacationing on the coast of Maine – possibly the
most beautiful place on earth. I hope to make this summer sojourn a
permanent tradition. And when my husband retires, he can spend a
lot more time here too. That would be even nicer.

Books I’ve read (or re-read) include:

– FREE by Chris Anderson
– Hiroshima by John Hersey
– Wiki Government by Beth Noveck
– A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition) by Ernest Hemingway
– The Help by Kathryn Stockett (terrific new fiction bestseller)
– The Second John McPhee Reader (includes Coming into the Country)
– Several books from Persephone Books, my fave British press
featuring forgotten 20th century women authors:

I finally got around to reading my signed copy of FREE:
the Future of a Radical Price. It’s the new bestseller by Wired
editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, who also wrote The Long Tail.
FREE has gotten quite a bit of press since being published
in July. There was a highly-publicized and somewhat negative
review by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. And lots of other
buzz online. http://www.longtail.com/

Quote of the summer
“All you have to do is write one true sentence”
– Ernest Hemingway (from A Moveable Feast)

Chris Anderson was kind enough to write a blurb for The Corporate
Blogging Book (“Rock-solid advice,” he said).  He sent me a signed
copy of his new book inscribed “To Debbie… Enjoy! No charge”
so I was way overdue in dipping into FREE.

I deliberately say “dipping” because it’s one of my tests of a good
business book. Let’s face it: they call them “business books” for a reason.
You’re reading them to to get practical tips, to be motivated, to solve a
problem – and not just to be entertained. Some of the best business books
do all of the above. And you can often identify them by skimming the
Table of Contents. Is it well organized? Do the chapter titles answer
your questions and compel you to read more?

Chris does a great job in FREE, starting with “What Is Free?”and ending
with “Free in a Time of Economic Crisis” and “Fifty Business Models
Built on Free.” Naturally, I started at the back, wondering what he might
have to say about  today’s down economy and whether he had revised his
optimistic outlook about $0.00 as a driving force of the digital economy.

He hadn’t.

He writes:

“The Web is the biggest store in history and everything
is 100% off.” (p.238)


“The psychological and economic case for (free) remains as good as
ever – the marginal cost of anything digital falls by 50 percent every
year, making pricing a race to the bottom, and “Free” has as much
power over the consumer psyche as ever.” (p. 240)

From there, I quickly picked up on the two threads of his book:

1. The price of free or zero is an inevitability on the Internet.

2. The way to make money is to figure out how to combine
free with paid.

Malcolm Gladwell, BTW, fixated on the #1 point of the book
and failed to explore the #2 point (pairing free with paid) in
his New Yorker review.

I’ve been saying for years that the currency of the Web is links.
Anderson says it better: the currency of the Internet is 1. Attention
(translated as number of visits or traffic to your site) and 2. Reputation
(roughly translated as number of links pointing to your site or blog).

Thus, even if your goods or services are priced at zero, you can accrue
enormous amounts of currency in the form of Attention and Reputation.
The trick is what to do with this currency – or how to  build a business
model “around” free.

A lot of this isn’t new at all. You’re already familiar with many
of the offline models, which Anderson lists at the back of the book:
Give away cell phones and sell minutes of talk time; give away talk
time and sell cell phones; give away the drinks and sell the show
(casinos); give away the show and sell the drinks (strip clubs). Give
away services and sell  products (Apple stores); give away products
and sell services (open a new bank account).

What Anderson challenges the reader to do, no matter what business
s(he) is in, is to think creatively about how to turn Attention (traffic)
and Reputation (links) into cash, particularly if you’re an online consultant
or merchant. A consultant can give away an e-book, for example
(or an e-newsletter – !) and sell speaking, teaching, paid article
writing and consulting.

Bottom line: this is an entertaining, provocative and highly  useful book,
if not altogether groundbreaking. Anderson  describes how he traveled
around to speak to different groups while he was writing Free. He got two
distinct reactions. Those under 30 said “Duh” (as he puts it), the thesis of
your  book is totally obvious: of course everything on the Internet is free.
Those over 30 were very suspicious and said, in effect, “Nothing is free;
somebody will end up paying for it sooner or later.”

Which camp are you in?

Of course Anderson is testing his hypothesis that free does not necessarily
cannibalize paid by offering free versions of FREE in multiple digital
formats, as well as an MP3 audio download and through iTunes.

Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/17135767/FREE-by-Chris-Anderson

Free Google Book: http://bit.ly/U5U8U

And more info about FREE at http://www.longtail.com/

Apparently it’s working. FREE made the New York Times bestseller
list as of July 26, 2009. And Anderson estimates that the various
digital versions were downloaded 200,000 to 300,000 times in
the first few weeks after publication.

But hey, take it from a hardworking author, buy the hard cover in
addition to sampling the free versions:

2. My next book
I’m in the preliminary stages of researching a book that will
be a narrative story of Government 2.0 or Open Government
as it’s also being called. In other words, not a policy or wonky book
but a story of this unfolding phenomenon. In a nutshell, Gov 2.0
means the adoption of social media (from Twitter to blogs, wikis,
Facebook and YouTube) as a way of making government transparent,
collaborative and participatory.

Thus my interest in reading such masters of “creative nonfiction”
as John McPhee and John Hersey. Beth Noveck’s “Wiki Government”
is also fascinating. Noveck is the Deputy CTO of the U.S. (under Vivek
Kundra). I’m really excited about attending O’Reilly and TechWeb’s
invite-only conference, Gov 2.0 Summit in D.C. where I’ll meet some
of the heavyweights in this evolving space, including Tim O’Reilly,
who is said to have coined the term Web 2.0. More later on all this.

And do take a look at the White House blog if you’re not already
familiar with it: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/

3. Useful Links

Malcolm Gladwell’s review of FREE:

Seth Godin’s response to Gladwell:

Seth Godin’s Free Debate page on Squidoo (lots of good stuff)

100 Best Business Books of All Time by Jack Covert and Todd Satterstein
http://100bestbiz.com/ (highly recommend this)

From my blog:

Corporate Blogging Inches Up Gartner’s Slope of Mainstream Adoption

Liveblogging Open Government and Innovation Conference (July 21-22, 2009)

Hope you’re having a good summer, wherever you are.

Warm regards and do be in touch. I’d love to hear from you.


Debbie Weil
author / speaker / consultant / kinda cool
Named a Washington D.C. Top 100 Tech Titan

P.O. Box 3766
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