Free to …

In the prologue of his book “Free” Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail, editor of Wired magazine and holder of a B.Sc Physics – George Washington University plus more…) states that the central question of this book starts with a loose end from The Long Tail. “My first book was about the new shape of consumer demand, when everything is available and we can choose from the infinite aisle rather than just the best-seller bin… there is only one way you can have unlimited shelf space: if that shelf space costs nothing.”  And Anderson takes it from here.

Broadly Anderson defines the term FREE in three ways  – free as defined by liberty or unconfined; free as defined by the cannons of freedom of expression and free as defined as having no cost or being a gift.  He also distinguishes between the 20th century free with the 21st century free.  Free in 20th century terms involves hidden costs (In other words, not free, just marketing or advertising free).  21st century free is an expectation that the digital generation has grown up with.

A similar idea is expressed by Alvin Toffler on the post-industrial society (The Third Wave) when he talks of mass customization offering a personalised product to a niche market.  The Second Wave is industrial and mass.  He states “The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment and weapons of  mass destruction.  You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration and synchronization, , and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureacracy.”

A tweet on http://twiter.com/WTFmediaconf compares Chris Anderson’s principle of free with Rupert Murdoch’s principle of payment for content.  As Murdoch contructs paywalls around his newspaper and accuses Google and Microsoft of stealing journalism, he acknowledges the digital generation saying ” This new media audience – and we are talking here of tens of millions of young people around the world – is already using technology, especially the web, to inform, entertain and above all to educate itself.” (December 2, 2009)

In a post (June 14,2009) Seth Godin ranted  about textbooks, particularly marketing textbooks which he stated were expensive, unable to provide insight or sell the topic as well as being incredibly impractical.  He starts by saying that “assinging a textbook … is academic malpractice”  and professors should publish online “for free… its part of their job”  So over time this blog and all its posts will become a textbook – that is if I use it properly and make sure that it is reviewed constantly by my co-creators (students) who resemble closely Toffler’s prosumer.  A prosumer is the amalgamation of the producer and the consumer.

Few would disagree with me if I said that technology has made information abundant and changed the publishing world completely.  Publishing (newspapers et al) is under threat in its traditional format, textbooks are under threat in their traditional format and even the academic world is changing.  No more are professors revered as keepers of knowledge.  This knowledge in bygone eras was hard gathered as information was scarce.  The internet offers this knowledge and more to all. So what then is the role of the future academic.  Especially as ideas and new knowledge can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the careers or professions that are changing or becoming extinct due to the brave new world we live in.

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Free dom

In the prologue of his book “Free” Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail, editor of Wired magazine and holder of a B.Sc Physics – George Washington University) states that the central question of this book starts with a loose en in The Long Tail. “My first book was about the new shape of consumer demand, when everything is available and we can choose from the infinite aisle rather than just the best-seller bin… there is only one way you can have unlimited shelf space: if that shelf space costs nothing.”

A tweet on http://twiter.com/WTFmediaconf compares Chris Anderson’s principle of free with Robert Murdoch’s principle of payment.  Broadly Anderson defines the term FREE in three ways  – free as defined by liberty or unconfined; free as defined by the cannons of freedom of expression and free as defined as having no cost or being a gift.  He also distinguishes between the 20th century free with the 21st century free.  Free in 20th century terms involves hidden costs (In other words, not free, just marketing or advertising ploy free).  21st century free is an expectation.  Who is right?

Robert Murdoch on the other hand believes strongly in pay for content.  It would appear that his convictions are based on traditional media concepts that news is a scarce resource, difficult to gather and therefore has a commercial value; hence cover price or subscription free.  Once a newspaper built up a readership, access to the readership was leveraged to secure advertising which was sold at a rate.  Circulation figures added value and the higher the circulation the higher the premium.  Logical.  But . . .  and it is a big but, the digital world turned this idea of making money on its head.  Flipped it around and twirled it for good measure.  Grassroots journalists, citizen journalists popped up all over the place, twitter announces the Chinese 2009 earth quake and the Iran revolution, CNN took a lot longer to announce or to get there.  So who owns the news?

On June 14th Seth Godin posted his “Textbook rant“.  He states that “assigning a textbook to your college class is academic malpractice.”  He goes onto suggest that Professors should spend their time “devising pages or chapterettes or entire chapters on topics that matter to them, then publishing them for free online.  (its part of their job, remember?)”  He concludes “This industry deserves to die  It has extracted too much time and too much money and wasted too much potential.  We can do better.  A lot better.”

So far online has changed the publishing industry (include traditional media with other publishing: newspaper, textbook, magazine, books (ipad)) in terms of production as well as consumption, it has changed the academic industry.  Everyone knows that Google holds the knowledge which is abundant instead of scarce when academics painstakingly gathered and held the knowledge.  Students have changed as well, their expectations are different and as suggested by Tolken they are now co-creators not simply consumers.