In a age of free, what can you sell?

People have been making a big fuss about Chris Anderson's new book, Free. Malcolm Gladwell thinks it's bunk. Chris Anderson, understandably, likes it. My friends have been cheerfully exchanging links on the issue, and I found this one from KK particularly interesting. (HT David Hoos)

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. . . . The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.

When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Well, what can't be copied?

KK goes on to list 8 "generatives" that can't be sold, including Immediacy, Personalization, Authenticity, and Findablity. My personal favorite, though, given my philosophical leanings, was Embodiment.

At its core the digital copy is without a body. You can take a free copy of a work and throw it on a screen. But perhaps you'd like to see it in hi-res on a huge screen? Maybe in 3D? PDFs are fine, but sometimes it is delicious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper, bound in leather. Feels so good. What about dwelling in your favorite (free) game with 35 others in the same room? There is no end to greater embodiment. Sure, the hi-res of today -- which may draw ticket holders to a big theater -- may migrate to your home theater tomorrow, but there will always be new insanely great display technology that consumers won't have. Laser projection, holographic display, the holodeck itself! And nothing gets embodied as much as music in a live performance, with real bodies. The music is free; the bodily performance expensive.

I buy my cd's used, or I get online versions of music from On the other hand, I paid $65 a ticket to go stand in line all day in Vancouver so that I can stand in a crowd of sweaty people all evening listening to U2 play in concert. He's right -- the live performance, with me standing less that 20 yards from The Edge himself, is that for which I'm willing to shell out REAL money.

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