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2 februari 2009 under Samtal | kommentera

INTERVJU/Chris Anderson: Om long tail-teorin och gratis som affärsmodell?

Tobias Tobias


chris_andersonPå onsdag talar Chris Anderson, chefredaktör på Wired och författare till ”The Long Tail”, på Media Evolution i Malmö. Vi har ställt några frågor till honom.

I analysbrevets premiumversion, som också kommer på onsdag, sammanfattar och analyserar vi Chris kommande bok ”Free – the future of a radical price” som utgår från att allt som kan digitaliseras kommer digitaliseras. Då resonerar vi också hur gratis som affärsmodell har påverkats av finanskrisen. (Vilket den har.)

Was he right about ’the long tail’? Is he right about ’free’? We asked Chris Anderson, editior in chief of Wired magazine and the author of ”The Long Tail”, a few days before his visit to Sweden and just after he has submitted the manuscript of his forthcoming book ’Free – the future of a radical price’.


1) In two weeks, the trial of The Pirate Bay – the world’s largest bit-torrent site with estimated ten million users worldwide – will start. Can the American entertainment industry defeat the Swedish pirates? If not, what will happen: will the giants change or do you see other major players in that market?

I try to avoid the word ”piracy”, because it is too vague and sweeping. Not all file trading on ”pirate” sites is illegal or even unwanted. But even for that which is piracy in the traditional sense, I think of like parasites in biology. A few are a good thing, since they challenge the immune system and help it become more robust. But too many are a bad thing and kill the host. Keeping it to a ”dull roar” seems about right. I call this ”just enough piracy”:

2) Your previous book ’The Long Tail’ has been a huge success, but there has also been a debate whether the hits still dominate or not. Is there anything you would change or add, or is the book still as relevant now as it was three years ago?

”Not really”, and ”more”. Virtually all the debate about the Long Tail has focused on misunderstandings of it. All the points about this not being the death of the blockbuster, that it’s hard for producers to make money in the Long Tail, that aggregators need both head and tail,  that LT markets with poor filters don’t work very well, powerlaws vs lognormals, are all in the book. Most critics have either not read the book or have chosen to caricature it to make their own rhetorical point. That’s not to say that the theory is perfect and can’t be improved – like all theories it’s a work in process and more data will help refine it beyond my own work. But the basic premise – a powerlaw distribution reflects the nature shape of our culture in a marketplace without distribution scarcity – seem to be pretty widely accepted at this point.

3) Will we learn much more from your forthcoming book ’Free’ than what we can from your article in Wired?

Of course! Chapters include the history of free (going back to the Babalonians and before), the psychology of free, the virtues of ”waste” (including the cost of ”unpriced negative externalities”, such as climate change), and lot and lots of economics and new business models.  Free is deeply misunderstood and often viewed with scepticism, but the book explains the difference between the 20th Century ”free”, which is about direct cross-subsidies in the inflationary economy of atoms (physical stuff) and 21st Century Free, which is about indirect cross-subsidies in the deflationary economy of bits (everything online). One is basically just a marketing gimmick while the other is a new economic model.

4) For how long can one talk about a book without releasing it? Seriously, is it more important to create expectations of what will come in the future than to actual deliver?

I’m a big believer in ”release early and often”. My model seems to follow a three-year path, from the first beta-testing of an idea in speeches and conversations, then blogging, then a Wired article, then more speeches and blogging, and finally a book. I think this is the best way to enhance and ”stress-test” an idea in progress, while building a constituency and potential market for the idea once it comes out in packaged form. In science, we call this peer review. In software, it’s beta testing. I think ideas grow best when they are shared as widely as possible. They get better by letting them go, and I just assume that the benefits will return to me, one way or another.

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