Free of charge: the ultimate form of recycling

Free of charge: the ultimate form of recycling

3rd August 2009, Comments 0 comments

A brand new book is available online, completely free of charge. Dutch publisher Martijn Aslander invites people to consider the future of 'free'.

The book in question is the Dutch translation of US author Chris Anderson's Free, The Future of a Radical Price. The printed book went on sale in book stores on 21 July.

In his book, Chris Anderson demonstrates how companies can earn money by giving away products for free. The book's Dutch publisher Uitgeverij Nieuw Amsterdam is therefore putting this theory into practice.

Martijn Aslander, who describes himself on his website as a 'lifehacker, connector and resourcer', is one of the leading champions of Anderson's ideas in the Netherlands. Free can also be downloaded from Aslander's website. He explains why, in these times of economic crisis, a commercial publisher is prepared to give away a book for free.

"The idea is: why shouldn't you give something away for free if it costs you no effort and no expense whatsoever? People who really want the book will go out and buy it anyway. And there are plenty of these people around. Just take a look at the sales figures for books nowadays. Because a book is a whole different entity to a digital version of a book."

Spirit of the age
Chris Anderson Photo Wikimedia CommonsAccording to this argument, the publisher will end up earning money anyway. At the same time, Aslander and Anderson are in tune with the spirit of the age. The word gratis (Dutch for 'free') recently became the most frequently used search term on the hugely popular Dutch public auction website Marktplaats, while websites offering second-hand items that can be picked up for free ( and are proving to be a runaway success. Take the case of Kristel Klomp from Hilversum who placed an ad offering seven concrete paving stones:

"I did it because I thought they might be of use to someone. And, to be honest, because it was handier than me having to take them somewhere to get rid of them. We got the door to our garden shed from Gratisaftehalen. It's not that we can't afford to pay for these things, but why buy something new when there's a perfectly good alternative?"

This highlights the environmental side of the story. After all, reusing things – at no cost – is the ultimate form of recycling.

Footing the bill
But there is yet another dimension to all of this. In effect, the person who comes to collect Kristel's paving stones is 'paying' her by ridding her of the heavy, dirty paving stones that were in her way. Seen in this light, 'free' is not free at all and, of course, the same applies to the 'free' download of Anderson's book. The cost of making the book available online will be paid for by the sales, which are expected to be higher as a result of this innovative construction.

It's even getting to the stage where, no matter what the product, the chances are you won't attract the punters unless you offer something for free as well. Even prices in second-hand shops are not low enough for some customers these days. In the second-hand shop in the Dutch town of Hoorn, business isn't exactly booming. The owners admits the customers are staying away: "We get far fewer customers dropping in. People are hanging on to their things for longer and they'd rather try to sell them on the Internet first."

Surviving the crunch
Book coverAccording to resourcer Aslander and his guru Chris Anderson, this new version of 'free' is also a way of surviving the current economic crisis. Or at least it can be, if you're an ICT specialist.

"Imagine that you are a designer or a programmer and you don't have enough assignments coming in. What do you do? Twiddle your thumbs? That's probably not a good idea, because you still need to work on your reputation, your profile and your skills. Why not use that time to program things you enjoy or think are important, so that someone else can benefit? If you just sit back and wait until the money rolls in, you may be waiting one hell of a long time."

Aslander argues that once the recipient of this kind of work realises its value, the paid assignments will start rolling in automatically. If he's right, the new 'free' could become the driving force behind the new economy.
Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten
Radio Netherlands


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