It may be Free, but is it Valuable?

In the battle and discussion around Free (using Chris Anderson’s capitalization), I have felt that a missing component has been whether the Free stuff in and of itself has value to the consumer.  Sometimes maybe and sometimes maybe not.

I work in an organization in which we run across something like this: another business unit inside the company has created some technical training content aimed at consultants and systems integration firms.  Many times it takes the form of “<Name of technology goes here>-Brain-Dump-in-a-Box” which is duly posted for broadest possible distribution on the Web.  Great!  Lots of folks go there, download and/or watch it (if it happens to have webcasts that aren’t downloadable) and get whatever assistance the content by itself can offer.

Then, this internal group will approach my team and ask us to make it available to our training channel.  For various niggling reasons, a cost/price becomes associated with this training content in the process.  So the question is, will a training company be able to sell this same course to corporate customers despite the fact that they can get it “for Free off the Web”?

The answer is Yes.

The reason is value. When this corporate student attends an instantiation of this class, she or he will not be staring at a monitor for five days. They will be taught by an experienced technology trainer. There is the value!  It’s not just the content (or whatever other IP you might think of) by itself.  It is the context and the “value-add” that make it worth paying for.  The value-add also adds cost, but the Value scenario still comes out looking good.

Will some companies still opt to go to the site, download the content and point their employees at it, telling them to “get up to speed” on their own?  Sure.  There will always be takers for Just Free. However, context and extra value can make the difference.

The challenge is to discover the context and extra value the potential consumers of your currently Free Stuff would be willing to pay for.

Comment – Terry’s Review of the Wealth of Networks

Terry, your summary of Benkler’s work is very clear. You call out the almost utopian vision he has for what is happening and what that might evolve into, and allude to his subtle taking of sides (“big media = bad, YouTube = good”). It is unfortunate that the default stance many of us assume is contrarian. Could it be that this is instead The Evolution of Production? One of the theories that anthropologists have regarding human evolution is that, before Neanderthal People disappeared, they co-existed with Cro-Magnons and then disappeared through absorption. Couldn’t that also happen here too?

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Review – The Wealth of Networks

Yochai Benkler’s book “The Wealth of Networks” is a wide-ranging work that presents an encompassing ground of thought and evidence to support his premise: that the radically distributed and peer-produced network information economy being enabled and encouraged by Internet technologies is showing our society a positive direction of possible evolution. This evolution is from a one-to-many, relatively passive consumer, and industrial production model to a many-to-many, engaged participant, and commons-based production model.

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Reflection – Benkler, Anderson, Hoskins, et al

It seems that much of the economics discussion in Media Economics is focused on mass media and the definitions of these media as used by Benkler. This is visually noted by the continued use of “standard” Supply-Demand graphs instead of more power law-looking graphs. Also, chapter thirteen’s discussion of government intervention didn’t touch upon the particular challenges of Internet regulation and “Net neutrality”.

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Reflection – 7/21/08

I enjoyed Mike Culver’s presentation, especially regarding Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). I began to think about how MTurk is conceived of today and the NASA Clickworker experiment that Benkler mentions in Chapter 4 of the Wealth of Nations. While this may seem a natural coupling in thought, I wonder just how many much larger organizations, like NASA, are finding methods to parse existing work items out to MTurk Clickworkers (if you will)? One of the observations Benkler and others pose is that the smaller and more discreet an item of work is, the more likely you can get an average individual to sign up to “take the HIT”.

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