Making money off free content, Boomerang edition

By Felix Salmon
October 3, 2011
Boomerang, is listed at $25.95, although you can get it for $15.04 at Amazon, or just $10.39 for the Kindle version. (It's $12.99 on iBooks.)

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Michael Lewis’s new book, Boomerang, is listed at $25.95, although you can get it for $15.04 at Amazon, or just $10.39 for the Kindle version. (It’s $12.99 on iBooks.)

These are entirely reasonable prices to pay for a new book by Michael Lewis. But here’s the thing: the entire book, with the exception of a very short introduction, is available for free on the web. In its entirety, the book comprises Lewis’s Vanity Fair pieces on Iceland; Greece; Ireland; Germany; and California. That’s it. Follow those links, print them out or Instapaper them, and you have Boomerang right there. The hardback doesn’t even come with an index.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the Kindle edition of Boomerang from reaching #1 on the Amazon nonfiction bestseller list, with the hardback at #2.

All of which is further proof, if proof be needed, that giving your stuff away for free can be the best way of selling it for significant sums of money. David Pogue has worked this out; Adam Mansbach turned a children’s book into a money machine the same way.

Which leaves only one question: What exactly does Boomerang, the title, mean? I asked Norton; they said they’d get back to me.


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My best guess on the title, Boomerang, comes from a May 1993 article titled The Debt Boomerang in the New Internationalist magazine. Issue 243. The author, economist Susan George, posits that there are six boomerangs. 5/keynote/

Posted by david3 | Report as abusive

The title “Offensive Euro-National Stereotypes Packaged as Analysis” seemed a bit gangly.

Also, after his travels, he came back to California in the end. Like … some kind of curved stick might.

Posted by Christofurio | Report as abusive

Nice pun.

Posted by GRRR | Report as abusive

Irony anyone?

Posted by qq13 | Report as abusive

A beautifully illistrated point Felix…

I find it ironic that the two shows I watch on NFLX most are national geographic documentaries for me and PBS shows for the kids… both air on free tv… having them there on demand in an easy to use format is the best $10 I can spend on entertainment.

Posted by y2kurtus | Report as abusive

Another ridiculous “no creative person ever need be paid” argument by Felix, who should (and does) know correlation does not equal causation.

Who knows how many books would be sold if he hadn’t told everyone about the free sites. I would have bought it. But I never will now that I can just get it for free.

Economics doesn’t stop working, Felix, just cause you like free stuff and don’t care about incentivizing creative work.

Posted by EconomistDuNord | Report as abusive

By the way, everyone should use Adblock on Felix’s site. It makes it load much more cleanly and quickly.

Also, that way all the advertisers can be assured they’re getting little value for their money here.

Don’t worry, Felix won’t get fired. He lives in a fairyworld where everything should be free, and where somehow people make a magic fairly living off giving things away or having their content stolen.

Felix probably has an equation showing that the more people steal your stuff and/or the less they pay for it, the more money you make.

It’s Felix’s fairyland analog to supply-side economics, and we all know how well that worked out.

Posted by EconomistDuNord | Report as abusive