Big Ideas Author Malcolm Gladwell, a Manhattanite of the New Yorker, has issued a smackdown review of Free, the book from Big Ideas Author Chris Anderson, a Berkeleyan of San Francisco's Wired. If that's not provocative enough, Gladwell sounds downright grumpy.
Gladwell begins with a recitation from the May U.S. Senate hearing on the newspaper industry, the one where David Simon spouted nonsense, and the one that has apparently become a sort of media Woodstock, dividing generations in the big ongoing publishing upheaval. Gladwell places himself firmly on the side of the oldies, and draws a tenuous parallel between the hearings and Anderson's book. Both apparently illustrate the stupidity of West Coast reefer hippies like Jeff Bezos and Arianna Huffington, who just hate selling content, or something.
In Gladwell's review, Anderson is constantly making imaginary pronouncements, which make him look like an idiot. He wants to turn the New York Times into Meals on Wheels, run entirely by volunteers! What a jerk. He says a free price is like "magic!" What?? And Anderson said nice things about YouTube, noted spectacular failure:
When you let people upload and download as many videos as they want, lots of them will take you up on the offer... Although the magic of Free technology means that the cost of serving up each video is "close enough to free to round down" [according to Anderson,] ...a recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube's bandwidth costs in 2009 will be three hundred and sixty million dollars.
Of course, Credit Suisse numbers may well be grossly overstated, and Gladwell doesn't mention that YouTube is expected to take in $241 million in revenue this year, twice one estimate of last year's sales.
Which isn't to say he's necessarily wrong about Anderson's book, or about Google's user-generated content being "crap." But it does show that, if you're looking for a long-term investment, a Free poster child like Google is probably a better place to park your cash than the magazine group where the two money-losingest titles have big fights over who has less of a grip on the future.