Alan Mutter’s question backfires

Alan Mutter is a former journalist-turned-entrepreneur who writes an excellent blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur, where he takes on various aspects of the newspaper industry from time to time. One of his recent posts, however, tries to make a point about the validity — or necessity — of charging for content online by using author and journalist/blogger Jeff Jarvis as an example. Not only does his post fail to make this case, but it actually winds up making the exact opposite point.

Mutter’s argument, in a nutshell, is that while Jeff Jarvis is telling everyone that they should be giving their content away for nothing, and that “free is a business model,” he himself is selling an old-fashioned book the old-fashioned way — for cash, in other words — as well as a version for the Kindle e-book reader and a video of himself making some of the central points from the book. As Mutter puts it:

Given Jeff’s deeply held belief that content should be free, why is he charging a retail price of $26.99 for his new book?

The central thesis of Jeff’s book, “What Would Google Do?”, seems to be that music, news stories, legal advice and other types of intellectual property should be free to roam the web to create links and communities which, somehow, Providence eventually will monetize.

So, why is Jeff charging $27.99 for the audio version of his new book?

This no doubt seemed like a slam-dunk argument to Alan. After all, as he notes towards the end of his post, Jarvis even admits in his book that he is “a hypocrite” for not just giving his book away online (although it’s worth noting that you can read the entire thing through his publisher’s website, if you so desire). But I think Jarvis is actually a little too hard on himself in that quote, and that Mutter draws almost exactly the wrong conclusion from this case.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

4 thoughts on “Alan Mutter’s question backfires

  1. It has troubled me that I posted at Mutter's entry and it was not approved. This may not be Alan's fault – it could be an oversight, or it simply may not have gone through. I'm no conspiracy theorist, and Mutter's a good guy with some great stories of late.

    But on this topic, as you point out, he has missed the point entirely. I've known Jarvis since 2001, and not once have I heard him say “all content should be free, everywhere.” You simply don't get people to listen to you if that's your only point. Jeff's far more of a nuanced guy. His point is that there are different ways of paying. Sometimes that's with your time. Sometimes that with cash. Sometimes that's one song at a time. The point has always been that the audience, Alan, the audience decides.

    Jeff has offered his book in more ways than anyone I can recall. (Including – free.) When he posts for free, people say he's just doing it do be a weasel consultant and get more gigs. When he charges for stuff, people call him a capitalist (as though that's something to be ashamed of, even in this economy).

    Jeff did W GWD. He opened the process while he was writing. He mused about advertising sponsoring the price of the book. He took input about people's ideas and stories. It was an open process and it resulted in a good book. Jarvis-bashing has become quite the rage, and go ahead if you disagree with the man. (Though it seems like a little bit of an effort for not much payoff.) But don't accuse him of duplicity in this matter. It's simply not an informed opinion, and I would hope Mutter would have the good graces to admit the flaw in his argument.

    • Thanks, Steve. Yes, I would hope Alan would admit the flaws as well — he is generally a pretty fair and straight-shooting sort of guy, although I think he has a blind spot when it comes to micropayments etc.

  2. Giving away free stuff is a good start to promote something. But because business is not always free, the process of the free-giving will also have its end. So blaming is never the word. True intention counts and the thought of making money out of the work done is also not an issue.

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