Thursday, July 23, 2009

Free - Digital Marketing Economics

Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine, has just published "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" suggesting that the declining cost of technology will drives digital products to be free because the marginal cost of product approached zero. The application of Moore's law, which suggests that the amount of memory delivered for a given cost will double every two years (a rough statement of the law, not a quote), to the cost of delivering digital products is one of the foundations for the suggestion that pricing will go to zero because the cost to deliver approaches zero.

It's interesting, because the cost appoaches zero but never acheives zero. Therefore, someone must still pay for the cost of delivering the product. Facebook is free, but the servers that house the data cost money. Google is free, but the it costs money to run the search bots, store and serve the data. The marginal cost of a Google search may approach zero, but it is not zero?

So what is the model? If free to oonsumers, there appear to be only one alternative - third party party payment. Third party payment to cover costs and provide profit margin can come from advertisers (the media model), or from a subset of the consuming market. This subset might be fees to subscribers for premium services. In other words, in order to be free to most a few must pay for a premium offering. A second version might be the blades/razor model, the content is free (or near free) but you must purchase the player/iPod/iPhone/Kindle. In the end, "Free" isn't really free, it's the ability to allocate product to a broad population by charging a few or charging in another manner. What do you think?

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