Fred Wilson

“Free” and the Future of Publishing

I had an interesting conversation on Saturday with Bruce Spector, the founder and CEO of a new web service called LifeIO. (See the end of this article for an explanation of what LifeIO is all about.) Bruce was part of the team that developed WebCal, which Yahoo! acquired in 1998 to form the core of its own calendar service, so he has been watching the web with an entrepreneur’s eye for some time now and he had an interesting take on the whole “free” debate and how it might apply to book publishing.

If you somehow missed the recent back-and-forth about Chris Anderson’s book Free, read the pro-“free” comments by Anderson, Seth Godin and especially Fred Wilson, and the anti-“free” perspective by Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Cuban, among many others. This piece by Kevin Kelly, not directly about “free,” is very good, too.

For the uninitiated, the issue boils down to this: The marginal cost of delivering a bit of information over the web — a song, a video, a bit of text like this one — is approaching zero. As a result, information is increasingly available, and consumers increasingly expect to get it, for free. So traditional “legacy” information-sellers like musicians or movie studios or newspapers, whose actual costs are very far from zero, have to figure out how to turn free-riders into paying customers — and fast, before they go out of business. Fred Wilson’s answer is “freemium“: you lure the customer in with a free basic service, then up-sell the heaviest users to a premium version of your product. As Wilson puts it, “Free gets you to a place where you can ask to get paid. But if you don’t start with free on the Internet, most companies will never get paid.”

How does all this apply to book publishing?

Here are some of Bruce Spector’s ideas. He is a great talker, though, and a summary like this doesn’t do him justice. Also, this was a private conversation, but Bruce kindly gave me permission to repeat some of his comments here.

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Categories: Internet · Publishing    Tags: · · ·

Fred Wilson on Social Media

Fred Wilson is a venture capitalist with a knack for explaining the power of social media in plain English. I am a junkie for the latest developments in the web, and I’ve become addicted to his blog, called A VC.

In this interview, he talks at length about the rise of social media — Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and blog comments, mainly — and why in the aggregate they will soon rival Google as the primary source of passed information on the web. The interview runs a little over thirty minutes but it’s well worth your time if you are interested in social media.

I think all writers, including novelists, simply have to be on top of this stuff. For all the paeans we hear about the glory of traditional printed books, the fact is the internet utterly transforms our business and our art.

Anyway, for a taste of Wilson’s sort of insight, here is an excerpt from the interview, on why Twitter succeeds better than Facebook as a viral medium (this snippet comes at about 26:30 in the video).

Fred Wilson: … Search is very intent-driven: I want to buy a digital camera, I go, I search, I buy. The passed-links thing is much more serendipitous. StumbleUpon, I think, was a very interesting service … But it was very serendipitous, right? You stumbled upon something. And I think that Twitter and Facebook and social media more broadly, I think, is a more powerful way of that serendipity. You want, I think, in life, you want some things you subscribe to, you want some things that you go search for, and then everything else you want to come at you through some filtered set of trusted sources.

Interviewer: Through what Mark [Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder] calls the “social graph.”

Fred Wilson: Correct. But the social graph — the problem that Facebook has, and they know it, is that there are a lot of people out there who are not friends who are really powerful social recommenders, and you’re just not going to have them in your social graph in the original instantiation of the way Facebook was set up. So I think blogging to me is the proper model, and I think that the people who started Twitter launched Twitter with the blogging model, which is: I can follow you and you don’t have to read me, and we don’t have to be friends but you can be influential. And that is, I think, a more natural model.

Categories: Internet    Tags: ·