Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

My Contribution to the Infosphere Today? Jell-O.

Okay, I didn’t contribute actual Jell-O to the infosphere1, but weirdly enough, after reading Chris Anderson’s “The Big Lie About Free” I got to thinking that what’s really silly about all these complaints about the seeming decline in value of media is that the idea of the promotional giveaway is so old! How old, you say?  Well, as I recently added to the Jell-O article over at Wikipedia (referenced by way of the Jell-O Musuem) that the promotional giveaway is at least as old as 1904, when the Genesee Pure Food Company sent out hoards of salesmen to distribute free Jell-O recipe books. Those same salesmen, after shoving books in mail slots, would then drop by the local grocers and inform them, essentially, “I’ve just told all these people about this new product—maybe you’d like to stock some?”

Chris Anderson makes the excellent point that the people complaining about intellectual property being treated as free are missing the fact that free does not equal valueless. I’ll agree with him there. But a simple economic fact that IP-based companies and industries are going to have to wake up to is that markets operate because of scarce resources. According to most neoinstitutional economic thought, people trade because what the other person has is of more value. In a nutshell, If I farm celery and you farm tomatoes, we’ll trade because each of our goods is more valuable to the other person. But there are two things under the sun that I can think of that are not (effectively) scarce resources on this planet. One is sunlight and the other is brains (and with them, ideas).

  1. Though I must confess that the idea of somehow shoehorning actual Jell-O into the infosphere is a highly attractive idea. 

« Previously: