"Pirates! Police state! Thieves! Antiquated businesses!"
I read a lot of debate online regarding digital goods such as movies, music and books, as well as software, and there's often a lot of heat, such as the above, but little light in these discussions, where people often camp out at two extremes: the "anything goes" camp who see no possible reason for restrictions on copying, but tend to get a bit hand-wavy when the discussion turns to how to pay content creators. The other side, who actually aren't very present in most discussions of these things on line, are people and institutions like movie studios or book publishers, who, in their confusion to catch up with a changing world, sometimes push for rather draconian measures to attempt to keep people from copying anything.
It's not as common to see serious, "grown up" analysis of the economic patterns at work, with consideration for both authors and consumers. This book is just such a look at the world of digital goods, and how they'll be produced and consumed in the near future.
As the title states, the central idea is that information is more valuable if it can be, and is shared. Even if all books were free, for instance, you couldn't possibly read them all, so it's valuable to have someone share their recommendations with you.
At various points in the book, the author suggests potential business models that might work to both share information goods, but also keep their producers in business, which has to be part of what is desirable as an outcome: if everything's free, but no one but the independently wealthy can afford to write, because there is no compensation for it, then society is the poorer for it. Natural, many of his ideas are not tested, but I really appreciate the thoughtfulness behind many of them in terms of considering the effects for everyone, including producers, consumers and society at large.
The author is not just someone writing from an ivory tower about the economics of sharing, he cites writers like Cory Doctorow and Clay Shirky, as well as sites and concepts such as Reddit and Kickstarter, both of which are currently enjoying a great deal of popularity.
A genuine curiosity also permeates the writing. There's a thesis to the book, but it's not a book where everything is explained by the one simple concept that the book introduces. Where he's not sure or doesn't know, he doesn't hesitate to say so.
Being a fairly short book, I think it's an extremely worthwhile read for anyone who has anything to do with the production or consumption of information goods.
If you don't want to buy the book on Amazon, you can get it directly from www.hbr.org with this discount code, for 99 cents: ADINFO1 !