Information Should Not Be Free… Says InfoWorld Columnist That You Can Read For Free

from the just-saying dept

Doug sent over a link to an angry screed by columnist Bill Snyder that bashes anyone who thinks anything should be offered for free. Want to read it? Go ahead, because it’s free at InfoWorld.

And, of course, that’s the problem with Snyder’s analysis. It doesn’t take into account the wider business model. The reason that Snyder’s article is available for free is because InfoWorld has decided that it has a better chance of monetizing that content by offering it for free and selling advertising. It’s other option would be to charge people directly to read Snyder’s economically confused analysis — but then no one might pay. So which makes more sense? According to Snyder, the latter.

Snyder also takes on the scourge of free WiFi, that pretty quickly showed that paid WiFi is a niche market, only working where you have limited and captive audiences (and even it is under greater and greater competitive threats). Unfortunately, his economic analysis is misguided:

News and Wi-Fi service are commodities, just like cars, housing, and food are commodities. Labor and raw materials, as well as the capital to buy them, are the essential ingredients of most any good or service we might care to own or consume. No money, no commodity — that’s a basic economic principle that the digital revolution has done nothing to change.

Sounds good, but it’s wrong. Very wrong. Yes, they’re commodities, but the defining rule of a commodity is that it is priced on the marginal cost, not the fixed costs. And yet, Synder suddenly thinks that while that applies to cars, housing and food… it goes away in the digital world? The only person really claiming that the economics has changed is Snyder, in insisting that digital products do not adhere to the same laws of supply and demand.

Snyder seems positively confused that free is a part of a larger business model:

I don’t write for free, my editors don’t edit for free, and I’ll bet your IT hands don’t run networks or produce code for free.

And yet, your content is available for free. Funny how that works. Why does it work? Because it makes good business sense. But, to Snyder, when this is pointed out, he gets confused and thinks that it proves his point:

I know, I know — some of you are going to bring up open source.

Sorry, that proves my point. Open source has grown in influence and quality in the last few years as business models in the community have evolved. Not too long ago, any open source company that dared post a paid or paid-support enterprise version of its software would be pilloried. But not any more. The recession has put many excellent technologists out of work, but there would be even fewer employed if open source companies were afraid to make a profit, then plow it back into development projects and expanded infrastructure.

Just ask the open source millionaires at MySQL if they think everything they produce should be free.

Snyder figured out the wrong thing. Yes, getting paid is important, but the question is what you get paid for, and he’s asking people to charge for the parts of a business that make the most sense being free — and doesn’t explain why he gets to decide what should be free and what shouldn’t. The answer, really, is that none of us decides: basic economics tells us. If you have a competitive product with no marginal cost, it’s going to eventually get driven to free. Whether you like it or not. And then you shouldn’t whine about the evils of “free.” You should instead figure out ways to use that to your advantage.

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Comments on “Information Should Not Be Free… Says InfoWorld Columnist That You Can Read For Free”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Want to read it? Go ahead, because it’s free at InfoWorld.

It isn’t any freer than free TV. In order to see the “free” content, I had to deal with an interstitial ad, andthen I was faced with a page that has I think 7 – 15 different ads on it.

I paid to read the article with my attention. There was no free lunch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, YOU’RE missing the point entirely.

I’m getting the news article for free. Period. I didn’t pay for the article. I didn’t pay for the information. I didn’t give a SINGLE CENT TO THE NEWS WRITER, or the company paying him.

Saying that somewhere along the line, at some point you paid money to SOMEONE does not change the fact that the article was 100% free for me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, thats exactly the point I’m making. I just replied to the wrong post when I meant to reply to the guy who said:

“It isn’t any freer than free TV. In order to see the “free” content, I had to deal with an interstitial ad, andthen I was faced with a page that has I think 7 – 15 different ads on it.”

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, it is you who is missing the point. In failing to make a point at all.

Saying that someone had to pay something to get a service is really nonsense. It would be no different than saying that, in order to get free coffee at the bookstore, I had to DRIVE there, spending money, and if I walked, I spent money in the CALORIES I spent walking there, so it’s not free. And then, the bookstore get a new potential client and that makes the coffee NOT FREE. Because you miss the point that FREE != make no money, when the point of the article and 99% of the other articles is that FREE = great for making money in other ways except PAYING FOR THE PRICE TAG IN THE ARTICLE.

senshikaze (profile) says:

Snyder’s an idiot. He’s not the only one over there. Sometimes I think the Infoworld editors just try to find stories about stuff that will piss off the most people. Have you ever read Randal Kennedy’s stuff? That guy seems to be a little on the crazy side.
Infoworld has time and again proven that they hate open source, so attacking the “religion” of free is just another step in their crusade against common sense.
Which sucks, because Infoworld does have some good writers over there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free vs. Libre & Gratuit

The distinctions exist, but a term like “without monetary cost” wouldn’t make a very good headline on Chris Anderson’s book, now would it? So instead, the term “FREE!” has been hijacked, but it truly fails to express the true realities at play.

As for libre and gratuit, I guess the best direct translations would be “without restrictions” and “without cost”. Even then, the translation from french to english still doesn’t really cover the concept.

English is a very bad language for explaining subtleties and nuances, and I often think that people like Mike and Chris Anderson take advantage of that to muddy the waters some more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Until recently open source companies couldn’t sell their products without fear of being attacked? Redhat has been around for more than 15 years. I bought open source products back in the 1990’s. That’s the whole point of FOSS. The fact that this guy thinks it’s something recent shows that he probably dismissed FOSS as being a hobbyist’s toy earlier.

Miles Maker (user link) says:

FREE isn't cheap! Ask the Advertisers-->

Some people simply don’t “get it.”

This is a FREE consuming culture–ads did that with all the FREE! brainwashing (with a catch) they’ve been tossing our way for years. The emerging culture wants FREE. period–and if you don’t give it to them FREE they’ll discover it somewhere else FREE.

News and Art is FREE; Audience is priceless. Advertisers lick their lips when you say you have a million visitors per day so make THEM pay to reach your coveted devoted loyal audience. Ads will pay for your staff, your infrastructure, all your overhead, your ads (he he) and your countless trips to Vegas (or Brazil–or BOTH).

Nuff said.

Miles Maker
Writer/Director of “Brown Baby” (2010)
The totally FREE movie you can share, remix, re-use and rediscover!
DONATE on IndieGoGo:
“Brown Baby” Website
“Brown Baby” on Twitter:
“Brown Baby” on Facebook:

fogbugzd says:

Don't tell CBS

Please don’t tell CBS, NBC, and ABC that the business models they have used for TV since the 1940s (and radio before that) do not work. In retrospect, they obviously should have set up paywalls and kept everything proprietary

If CBS had only understood this economic model back then, they would have created proprietary hardware that would only receive CBS broadcasts. CBS would have used a proprietary broadcast standard so that only official CBS hardware could receive the proprietary CBS broadcasts. They would have created proprietary video camera equipment so that only companies that they were affiliated with could make advertisements and programming. They would have had a cut of everything, and it would not have been a small cut. Modern business models, such as the Kindle, suggest that something like 40% of every stage of production is about right. Looking at the history of failed industries like television certainly gives us great insight about how to build successful systems. We can be thankful that the ebook industry has learned these lessons, even though there are some Socialist proponents that are advocating open source.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

But the very worst mistake was to give the consuming public the idea that content should be free. As a result, hundreds of millions of people read the news for free

But yet millions of people watch and listen to news on television and radio for free. Why should print be any different? Wait, it is not different. The quarters you pay to get a paper each day in no way pays for the reporters and columnists to write. That money comes from advertising.

This guy is a retard, he even contradicts himself:

“Wi-Fi service are commodities… No money, no commodity” “Google… recently announced free Wi-Fi… will recoup at least some of the cost by placing ads on the service.”

Yes, that’s how newspapers operate, that’s how broadcast TV operates, that’s how radio operates, that how Sam Clubs operates when it gives out free samples. You give it away for free and make money somewhere else. This has been going on since the beginning of time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yes, that’s how newspapers operate, that’s how broadcast TV operates, that’s how radio operates, that how Sam Clubs operates when it gives out free samples. You give it away for free and make money somewhere else. This has been going on since the beginning of time.

I would have to disagree with Sam’s Clubs, as the free sample concept is very different from ad supported distribution (the TV / Radio / Newspaper model).

Samples are a very important part of developing someone’s taste for a product. You don’t give them a meal, you don’t give them a full box to take home, all you do it give them a very small bite to test out the product. It would be foolish to give away the full product, because there would be no way to recover the costs.

One day, Mike will learn that a taste is enough to sell a good product, you don’t have to whore yourself out entirely and give away everything all the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

One day, Mike will learn that a taste is enough to sell a good product, you don’t have to whore yourself out entirely and give away everything all the time.

Gee, maybe possibly like how TechDirt is a taste of the analysis services the company Mike actually works for provides? See if you can get that for free.

mobiGeek (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You aren’t giving the whole thing away for free. You are giving away the stuff that costs you nothing to give away. You are still charging for the stuff that costs you like your time (concerts) and materials (t-shirts, books, posters) or that have other physical limitations/scarcities (the sweatband the bassist wore last night, etc.).

What you are proposing is like having 1/2 a website’s contents available for free and yet a paywall for the other 1/2…and then getting regulations or draconian technical limitations to stop anyone from sharing the stuff behind the paywall…so much so that it likely impedes anyone from taking full advantage of the fact that it a digital good (stop people from printing, taking screen captures, blocking Googlebot, etc…)

azuravian (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, I’d say Mike is “do as I do.” The things he produces that have no marginal cost (techdirt) are given away for free. This is then used to sell other things, such as company analysis and guidance as well as time that he spends as a speaker.

To apply this to music, as you did, would be to give the music away and charge for the t-shirts and concerts.

YouAreWrong says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

what are you talking about? mike makes 10-12 posts a day, during US times… even if each one only takes a half hour, that’s still 5-6 hours of work a day… and he admits that the ads on this blog dont make shit for him. on top of that, he has his consulting services (which he still refuses to admit are consulting services) and the [running joke formally known as] the insight community.

first, if you think you can pop out a meaningful blog post in under a half hour, either you’re full of it, or your posts won’t be worth reading (people regularly call mike on his glaring inaccuracies). second, the insight community responses read like they’re written by high school kids or college sophomores. third, reading from mike’s blog posts, i would never pay for his opinions.

even if i disagree with mike most of the time, i have to commend him for being able to sell his opinion. i’d just never pay for his consulting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

And the point that people like you still don’t get…

R&D costs do not factor into value. Just because Mike spent “5-6 hours of work a day” does not mean he can sell his articles.

His articles are given away for free because that’s what people value them at. He makes more money from building a fanbase and creating an internet presence than he would by paywalling his content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

You state that like it is an “either or” choice.

Mike could spend more time to right more complete articles, and sell them to Wired, example. I am sure that Chris would give him some work. Oh, wait, Wired is getting thinner every month, perhaps Chris is going to be over here soon writing stuff.

Mike could also write a best selling book. Wait, he wrote a book, and I can’t seem to find any sales figures for it. Perhaps this is another FREE thing to promote something else?

Seriously though, there are options, there are always options, and they aren’t “totally free or (evil) paywall”. Mike just likes to paint it that way, it helps him hold sway over the masses that visit this site (I would call many of them dittoheads, but that would insult Rush Limbaugh’s audience).

mobiGeek (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Just to be clear: digital recordings of music isn’t a scarcity capable of being efficiently sold.

One problem that the “blinded by zero” crowd have is that they interpret “music” to mean “recordings”. We aren’t talking about giving away “all music” for zero price.

We are talking about giving away copies of digital recordings…something that costs NOTHING to make, so why should people be willing to pay anything beyond a nominal fee (if any) to get?

There is still plenty of opportunities from which to make money from “music”, but not by selling digital copies of it. Any attempt to block digital copies from being made is simply wasted effort and/or massively infringing on the public’s rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“Something that costs NOTHING to make.”

It costs money! You need to pay hundreds of dollars for the equipment! Tens of dollars of the internet connection!


Oh no, wait, they are. Nevermind.

mobiGeek (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Equipment, internet connection, the initial recording session, etc. These are all sunk costs.

Sunk costs, when it comes to digital music, are substantially lower now than in the days of vinyl and cassette. There are services that will host and distribute your digital music free of charge…heck, your fans will do it and contribute to the effort in terms of donating time, equipment and marketing…which is EXACTLY the point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You miss the point entirely. Nobody is suggesting a $20 a song price. The Itunes 99 cent / 1.49 range is pretty good for all concerned. The users get a high quality digital file, the artist gets a small pay, as does everyone else involved.

In simple terms, if it cost $75,000 to make an album and you can sell, what, 200,000 songs on itunes, you can basically pay to do it all again. As a true fan, wouldn’t you want your idol to have the time and resources to make more new music for you, rather than being trapped touring bars or flogging t-shirts and leftover crap from their last tour on a friday night?

There is still plenty of opportunities from which to make money from “music”, but not by selling digital copies of it.

All of those opportunities are selling “extras”. The fans value the music, not the extras. Give the extras away, and sell the music, it’s much more in keeping with what the public truly values.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I would have to disagree with Sam’s Clubs, as the free sample concept is very different from ad supported distribution

My point was not to analogize free samples to the business models behind broadcast radio and television. Free samples are merely just another example of giving away something for free to make more money somewhere else. Clearly Sams Club makes money on those free samples, so the example is valid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“One day, Mike will learn that a taste is enough to sell a good product, you don’t have to whore yourself out entirely and give away everything all the time.”

Which is exactly what CwF+RtB is. Give away what you can replicate for zero cost, and then sell what costs you money to make.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, in the case of techdirt, CwF+RtB is selling sheep t-shirts, hoodies, and books they wouldn’t buy otherwise, and calling it a business model.

Even by Mike’s own admissions, without constant reminders on the main site page, the sales dropped off pretty much directly after the first push. He also never answered the question how much the ad space was worth. I would be really interested to see how much he got paid to “driod” the site for a day, it would give an indication of the cost side of running the CwF+RtB at the top of the page all the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Actually, it didn’t really produce much of anything, from what I can see. The CwF thing runs in the top ad space on this blog, and the gross (not net) was reported at 37k. He is lucky to net half of that (he will claim higher, but I suspect he doesn’t consider his own time, rent, and other resources that went into operating it as “costs”). I suspect that Motorola paid way more than $200 to droid the site, don’t you?

I have a feeling he traded dollars for 75 cents, but got a bunch of goodwill for doing it. He will like post he and say “it’s not true”, but will never reveal what it’s actually doing.

Dementia (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unless you have served in those organizations which ensure and protect your freedom, then it is, at least to you. Although there are those who have paid the cost for you. Just like advertisers pay for you to watch network television or read the newspapers, etc, etc. Of course, the price paid for you freedoms isn’t measures in dollars.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Guess What - "The Price of Free'

The New York Times has it’s own ridiculous article that information should not be “free”. The Price of Free. The article concludes with: “… If the changes in our viewing habits stanch the flow of money back to studios, producing those kinds of programs may no longer be possible. In their place, we’ll get more junk: dopey reality shows, cookie-cutter police dramas, inane gab fests. The vast wasteland will become even vaster.”

While Nicholas Carr may be correct; that we will get more junk, he seems to miss the fundamental economic principle of the free-market: if you can’t make money, too bad.

As TechDirt consistently points out, if the current business model will not generate a profit; it’s time to change your business model so that you can make money.

I might as well toss in the conspiracy theory allusion. Two known articles on “FREE” being bad? Are there others? Hmmm, something to think about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Guess What - "The Price of Free'

His point is this: The only reason these things are “FREE” is because people are stealing them (Trent Reznor calls it stealing, I will too). If movies and TV programs were available only from the official sources, the economics would be different.

What is suggested here on Techdirt and others is to ignore the shoplifters, and in fact, help them to carry the stuff out the door. Oh, and sell them a t-shirt on the way out.

How dumb is that?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Guess What - "The Price of Free'

Taking has always been stealing. Everyone knows that.

“What if I take a copy of an artistic work that clearly resides in the public domain?”

It’s still stealing and I hope you get kicked off the internet when the ACTA treaty is passed. Which actually isn’t a treaty but an Executive Decision that doesn’t have to be voted on by Congress.

Hahaha! We win! Thanks to bribery, I mean, lobbying.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Guess What - "The Price of Free'

Shoplifters is an invalid analogy. If I take a candy bar from a 7-11 without paying, that candy bar cannot be sold by the proprietor. If I copy a digital image, the image still remains in the proprietor’s possession. Oh, and BTW, that event != loss of revenue since I likely would not have bought it to begin with.

And in response to taking copies of public domain works is still stealing? Then I guess just about every human being in America is a thief for stealing “Jingle Bells” because just about every one of us have sung, copied, and shared that public domain work.

Daemon_ZOGG (profile) says:

Bill Snyder. What an idiot...

Talk about an un-educated opinion! So he thinks that opensource’ main drive for quality is somehow influenced by business models?
Opensource is driven by passionate, dedicated individuals not just from the industry, but from regular, everyday people as well. Very little comes from some business model.

There is too much here to comment on, so I’ll just say this:

Bill Snyder is just blowing hot air out of both ends. He didn’t do ANY real research into opensource. And doesn’t have a clue about the internet. Other than how that “mouse thingy” works. ;p

Anonymous Coward says:

The fact that he refers to the same ‘normally sensible David Coursey,’ the same David Coursey who thought that pirate bay users needed to pay a subscription fee to use the pirate bay and then retroactively removed his mistake (read ‘ his mistake’ as ‘ the evidence of his complete cluelessness’) from the article without commenting or noting the change, is pretty good evidence that this columnist is also most likely a moron.

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