Monday, July 13, 2009

Nothing Is Truly Free - You Always End Up Paying Something

I was reading the New York Times review of Chris Anderson's new book, "Free." The reviewer was Virginia Postrel, and her review certainly made the book sound very interesting. My interest was particularly piqued when she mentioned that the book was available free online until its publication date. Ms. Postrel pointed out that this "free" distribution of the book went to the book's core thesis, that one can create a lucrative business by giving away products so as to create demand for non-free products and services. Being the cheapskate that I am, I decided to check this out here on Scribd.

Immediately it became apparent that there are a few impediments to enjoying this book "freely," to coin a phrase. Let's start with its unavailability beyond the pub date. Okay, I thought, why don't I just download the book at read it as my leisure? No good - download function is disabled.

Alternatively, why don't I just print it out in a pdf? Oops, that's been disabled as well.

As a result, I am limited to reading the book in the Scribd reader. Given the ravages of age and its impact on my eyesight, I needed to enlarge the text, which no longer fit comfortably within the reader, such that each pair of adjoining pages could be read only by scrolling laterally and horizontally (If anyone knows of a way to ameliorate this, please let me know.).

While the content is "free," the time, effort and aggravation required for me to read the book in this format is a much higher "cost" than I am willing to bear. After all, the book is over 250 pages in length - that equates to 125 pairs of pages. Perhaps this too was part of the business plan - the book is nominally free, but it's so inconvenient to read that I'll be compelled to buy it instead. If so, it seems to have backfired. I'm now so annoyed at having been essentially "suckered" into thinking I was getting to read a book for free, that I'm just going to get it for free, for real, at my library. So there!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Are Online Videos Getting Shorter or Longer?

While I realize that online video is still a nascent industry and that, as Yogi Berra said, it's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, two sources last week seemed to point in exactly opposite directions, much like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

The New York Times, on Sunday, July 5, claims that videos on the web are getting longer, lasting beyond the 2-3 minute limitations that producers thought were imposed by the outer reaches of their audience's attention spans: "TV networks get much of the credit for the longer-length viewing behavior ... making users accustomed to watching TV online for 20-plus minutes at a time."

By contrast, a recent survey by Frank N. Magid Associates indicates that viewers are moving away from TV broadcasts that are shown online, and that, in the words of MediaPost, "shorter online video -- done professionally -- has been found to be more entertaining than full-length TV shows on traditional TV sets among 37% of consumers."

To try to reconcile these two viewpoints, it would seem that TV viewing online is conditioning users to longer-form programming than previously, and that online video producers are taking advantage of this trend by lengthening their narratives as they increasing compete with TV programming for eyeballs. Thoughts?