The Economics of Free

Mike Masnick at Techdirt has summarized a Grand Unified Theory on the Economics of Free. As this is only an excerpt, go to the full article, and at the bottom of it, you will find links to the whole series, up to now 15 entries. There is also a vivid discussion in the comment field.

Mike Masnic:

“Knocking down the barriers of artificial scarcity open up tremendous new opportunities — just as knocking down the artificial scarcity known as “protectionism” helps to grow markets by creating new opportunities. In this case, those new opportunities have only increased in number as we’ve gone digital, making more content infinite in nature. Where some people have trouble is that those new opportunities may be in different places than the existing opportunities — and those new opportunities may not all be capturable by the creator of the content. Indeed, there will be some externalities created by the free flow of an infinite resource. However, the total amount that any content creator can capture is still much larger than it was before. It’s one of those cases where getting 20% of a huge pie is much better than getting 90% of a tiny pie.

You just start by redefining the market based on the benefits of what you’re providing, rather than the specific product you’re selling. If you’re focused on selling the benefits, then discovering a better way to sell those benefits is seen as a good thing, rather than a threat. You then break down the different components that make up those benefits that you’re selling — and you begin to recognize that every bundle of goods and services that make up the benefit you’re selling has components that are scare as well as components that are infinite. In fact, if you look closely enough, you realize that any scarce product you buy actually has infinite components while any infinite good you see also tends to have scarce components.

Once you’ve broken out the components, however, recognizing that the infinite components are what make the scarce components more valuable at no extra cost, you set those free. Not only do you set those free, you have every incentive to create more of them, and encourage more people to get them. You break them into easily accessible bites. You syndicate them. You hand them out. You make them easy to share and embed and distribute and promote. And, yet, all the while, you know exactly what scarce resources those non-scarce goods are tied to, and you’re ready to sell those scarce resources, recognizing that the more people who are consuming the infinite goods, the more valuable your non-scarce resource is.

So, the simple bulletpoint version:

1. Redefine the market based on the benefits

2. Break the benefits down into scarce and infinite components.

3. Set the infinite components free, syndicate them, make them easy to get — all to increase the value of the scarce components

4. Charge for the scarce components that are tied to infinite components

1 Comment The Economics of Free

  1. Kevin CarsonKevin Carson

    The comparision of IP to tariffs as a form of “protectionism” is quite apt.

    IP in the globalized economy performs a function directly analogous, as the basis in privilege for cartels and trusts, as tariffs did in the old national industrial economies.

    With the exception of a few old-line players like textiles and steel, the corporate economy sees tariffs as an impediment to the free flow of money and unfinished goods among a TNC’s sub-divisions around the world. Patents and copyrights, on the other hand, enable the Western-owned corporation to operate as a global organization with production facilities in many TW countries, while protecting it from “foreign” (i.e., indigenously owned) competition.

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