Over the last few years Social media has grown at an exponential rate. The founders of Facebook, Myspace, Youtube and twitter could not ha...

Music for nothing and your TV for free...

Over the last few years Social media has grown at an exponential rate. The founders of Facebook, Myspace, Youtube and twitter could not have foreseen the uptake, or the impact that they have on popular culture. With elections being contested, news of earthquakes alerting the emergency services and fan bases emerging from the broad to the niche, social media is a new defining force in our everyday lives.

This has mean that some things which in the past we have become accustomed to purchase, have been forced to go free - nowhere is this more visible than in sites such as Spotify, Zattoo and lastFM, plus of course file sharing sites like BitTorrent,, Graboid and Napster.

Chris Anderson, author of “The Long Tail” recently penned a soon to be best seller, “Free” (which incidentally if you visit his site http://www.thelongtail.com// , you can download for free) in which he argues the free model has a basic premise - offer content for free, then up-sell to your consumer the benefits of purchasing whatever it is they have taken.

The free model in music was taken to a whole new level in 2007 when Radiohead released “IN RAINBOWS”, the first totally free album, downloadable from their web site - it was a worldwide success, but fans didn’t just want a digital copy, instead 100,000 people pre-ordered the album and original EP’s at full cost and the physical CD still sold 1.75 million copies worldwide, which puts them alongside Lil' Wayne in proving that making music free digitally doesn't necessarily impede sales. Interestingly despite the album being available to download for free on Radiohead's website, 30,000 Americans paid full price to get "In Rainbows" from iTunes in its first week of release (go figure!) - it was Radiohead’s second largest selling album in over fifteen years.

Each of these free sites subscribe to Anderson’s model - Spotify do offer free music they do offer a three tier model - free music, with an audio advert every five songs; pay £0.99 advert free for a day, or £9.99 advert free for a month. The site has over 30 million users, 1 million from the UK alone.

Zattoo is free TV over the net. No more paying your TV license, and with more channels subscribing every month, it’s soon to be a force to be reckoned with – at present digital MPU’s are the only distraction however I am sure that there is an income generation model coming soon.

File sharing remains extremely popular. It was estimated that over 2 million files are shared every day. TV programs, music, Films and so on. A legality question ensues, and sites are being taken to court every year and being forced to close down, but you have to ask, are you, the user just as responsible as the administrator sharing those files?

What remains is this. The net will continue to grow, and whilst technology will develop and allow us to continue benefiting from free forms of entertainment and purchases at faster and less intrusive ways, the models need to adapt just as well. The free model can’t continue to be sustainable forever. Independent sites will need finance and advertising to keep going, which could be to the detriment of your viewing/audio pleasure; big retailers can only give so much away for free, you will eventually have to purchase items and services, to keep them in business.

But what makes this truly different is the landscape. Businesses now have a choice. Attract new customers by giving them what they want for free, gain loyalty and then start to sell. As for the consumer, if they truly want something, they too have a choice.

As Chris Anderson says, “you can listen to music for free, but going to a concert has never been more expensive”

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