I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rethinking Free

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with an editor of a magazine at a writer's conference about the changes currently taking place in the publishing industry. As you probably know, traditional newspapers are dying and the race is on as publishers try to to figure out how to survive financially while at the same time providing free online content.

The dilemma they face is real. Sending people to cover events, do interviews, conduct research and then do the actual writing of the content costs money. I'm one of the people they pay for such content. But if they give my content away, how do they pay me?

We've grown less tolerant of advertisements on websites. With a few exceptions, people are unwilling to pay for content online. So, what's a publisher to do?

As the editor and I talked about this, she asked me if I'd heard about "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" by Chris Anderson. I told her I'd just heard about it that week, but didn't know much about it.

Interestingly, Anderson has arranged for the book to be distributed in different fashions for different prices. For example, a person can purchase the hardback on Amazon.com for $21.59 right now. It's available on the Kindle for $9.99 (the standard price). The abridged audio version is available on audio.com for $7.49 and the unabridged audio version is available for free (yes free) at audbile.com and iTunes. The abridged audio version isn't free because the listener gets the point in half the time and time is money.

I downloaded the unabridged (free) version on iTunes and have been listening as I run errands. One the distinctions Anderson makes early on is between the 20th and 21st century mindset--especially as it relates to the Internet.

Those with a 20th century mindset are suspicious about free items because they believe "there is no such thing as a free lunch." Those with a 21st century mindset have grown up with free being the standard--they have free Yahoo or Gmail accounts; they use Google Docs; they use free Wi-Fi in coffee shops; etc.

The editor and I continued our conversation via email after the conference. She said she has the 21st century mindset described in the book. I told her I have a foot in both worlds and it can be confusing sometimes. She responded by saying, "a foot in both worlds might not be a bad place to be. I think old school values reapplied to new school ideas can provide a good balance."

As I've thought about all of this and the way it applies to my writing business, I've started to re-evaluate the tools I use.

I've always hated webmail for a number of reasons, but the fact is computers crash and we change IPs (thus losing email addresses) and backing up email is a major pain, so I've gravitated away from MS Outlook and other email clients in favor of webmail because it's portable, I'm in control of it, and I never have to back it up. Oh, and it's free. But I choose to give the webmail provider I use $20.00 a year for the extra bells and whistles. That's one way free leads to income and I'm fine with that.

I've never been a big fan of Google Docs. But here I am typing this post using the product. Why? I don't think the writing industry is moving away from MS Word as the standard any time soon, but practically speaking, when you have two or three computers, it's a pain to set up a network or to use a thumb drive, and it's an even bigger pain to continually back up your documents. With Google Docs, you don't have to do any of those things. You simply open a browser on any computer you are using, sign in, and begin working. When you're finished, you can download the file as a Word document with the push of a button and send it to your editor.

I don't know how long I'll stick with any of this, but when I think about using free web-based tools it just makes sense for the portable times in which we live. So, I'm adapting, both personally and professionally, as I watch the industry I'm in go through the same changes. Ultimately, I'm looking to ride the crest of the wave of change so I don't get left behind.


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