Information Wants To Be Free (Of External Constraint)

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 11 2012 4:05 PM

Information Wants To Be Free (Of External Constraint)

I enjoyed Ezra Klein's paen to the advertising agency, beneficent provider of revenue to the media. But I think his riff on freedom and information misses the mark:

Technology optimists like to say that “information wants to be free.” Perhaps the truer way to put it is that consumers want information to be free. And advertising makes it look free. But being free and looking free are not the same thing. In fact, they can be even more different than being free and being expensive, because at least in that comparison, the difference is obvious and easy to evaluate.

The idea is that information wants to be libre, not that information wants to be gratis. That information wants to escape the bounds of external constraint. And you see this pretty clearly. You can go back to whatever period in the history of American newsmedia that you like, and it was always the case that the facts contained in the newspaper would take a life of their own beyond the bounds of the business model du jour. The consequences of this have implications for media pricing strategy and help explain why free-or-cheap-at-point-of-sale is often the preferred strategy, but it's not really an idea about prices. Books, which are not cheap at the point of sale, are a good example. An influential book has influence beyond the people who bought it, or who borrowed and read it. The ideas disseminate through reviews and discussions and offhand references in other people's writing.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Global Marches Demand Action on Climate Change


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.