Chris Anderson Backs Away From Free in Wired’s New Cover Story

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The open web is dying because "[w]e’ll pay for convenience and reliability." Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Wired's September issue debuted today, with an essay from editor-in-chief Chris Anderson declaring that ding, dong, the web is dead. The wild, open World Wide Web, he argues, is giving way to walled-off networks and closed-door applications that use the Internet protocols for transport, but ditch the browser/web. Along the way, Anderson also seems to quietly back away from the widely criticized theory he posited last year in Free: The Future of a Radical Price, with no nod to maybe being a little off.

In Free, Anderson didn't advise companies to simply give away their entire product line. Rather, he suggested going free as a marketing strategy to entice customers to buy other products, and argued that it works particularly well in the digital world, where production costs can approach zero.

In the Wired story, Anderson does reference the "freemium" payment model with his magazine, saying, "Thus the shift to the app model on rich media platforms like the iPad, where limited free content drives subscription revenue (check out Wired’s cool new iPad app!)." But most iPad or iPhone apps don't have a subscription-based product attached. More to the point, Anderson suddenly sounds downright rosy about the willingness of customers to pay for small things they might easily get for free. For example:


• Much as we love freedom and choice, we also love things that just work, reliably and seamlessly. And if we have to pay for what we love, well, that increasingly seems OK. Have you looked at your cell phone or cable bill lately?


• Blame human nature. As much as we intellectually appreciate openness, at the end of the day we favor the easiest path. We’ll pay for convenience and reliability, which is why iTunes can sell songs for 99 cents despite the fact that they are out there, somewhere, in some form, for free.


• And this time we have Apple and the iPhone/iPad juggernaut leading the way, with tens of millions of consumers already voting with their wallets for an app-led experience.


• Every time you pick an iPhone app instead of a Web site, you are voting with your finger: A better experience is worth paying for, either in cash or in implicit acceptance of a non-Web standard."

It's understandable that Anderson would want to promote paid apps, given the initial success of Wired's own (although the real proof there will come with the sales of subsequent issues, when the app is no longer a much-hyped novelty). But other publications might want to note his apparent shift in emphasis before jumping on the iPad-app bandwagon.

The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet [Wired]