Watching Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock this weekend close on finishing Chris Anderson's Free: The future of a radical price made me realize Woodstock was the first "Freemium" of our modern marketing era. I can hear the snorts of some. Yes "modern marketing era" is a stretch for me too, but King Gillette owns the poll position on free. King, yes he of razor fame, is said to have given away his razor in order to sell the blades. Give me a $2.00 handle and I will pay you thousands over my shaving live. I've been shaving since I was twelve, so tens of thousands for me (lol).
Taking Woodstock may work better as a lesson in Freemium history than movie. Woodstock is the movie's conceptual core but we don't see any acts. My guess is Lee couldn't pay for footage. Once promoter Michael Lang, well played by Jonathan Groff, understands Woodstock is happening faster than the promoters can figure out how to make money a beautiful Zen quality takes effect. I loved one of Groff's last lines as Lang, "Guess we are all going to sue each other now," said just before hoping on a horse and riding up the garbage strewn hill into the upstate New York sunset.
On examination Woodstock is very "web-like". The New York Thruway becomes so congested it stops functioning. Acts have to be helicoptered in. Another great movie scene is when a State Trooper also adopts a, "What the F***K" attitude and gives the movie's protagonist Jake Teichberg, also well acted by Henry Goodman, a ride on his Harley to get to the concert. Instead of seeing the concert we spend an over long acid trip in a van.
Scale changed Woodstock forcing its promoters to, as John Irving insisted in an early book, "Set free the bears." Woodstock's scale changed its economics just as Facebook's, Twitter's and My Space's scale changed theirs. Once Woodstock achieved scale how they thought money would be made changed. From the ashes of such creative destruction came an also ran idea - the movie. Woodstock's promoters weren't idiots, but the movie was not the main idea. They would make money from traditional concert ticket sales.
Not so much as it turns out. When you don't get a ticket booth and fence built before a few hundred thousand people show up your concert is free. Another great scene from the movies is when the townspeople, upset by the invasion of "hippies", protest. Faces red and carrying angry placards Jake asks what they plan to do about an army of people. Guess what, there is NOTHING they can do as the police chief has already told them. All they can do is look marginal and goofystupid.
In VH1's excellent Woodstock Then And Now we learn the young money men who put up the capital to make Woodstock possible sold their movie rights for about enough money to break even on the event. Now $1.5 million 1969 dollars is nothing to sneeze at, but the movie goes on to gross over $200,000,000. Once Woodstock reached scale magic was in the can. Joplin, The Who, Hendrix, CSN's FIRST performance, Richie Havens and Country Joe looked out on a rippling sea of people giving the career making performances of their lives.
When I worked at M&M/Mars the company hired Richie Havens to sing about a new granola candy bar. Havens performed at the M&M national meeting. Few listened. I was riveted flashing back to his gold sweat stained tunic. "Freedom, FREEDOM," I could hear in my ear. I was eleven when Woodstock happened, but seeing the film with friends we felt like we were there. Woodstock thus became one of the first examples of The Experience Economy, a great book by a couple of smart Harvard profs. When I saw Richie Havens he wasn't singing about granola bars. "Freedom, FREEDOM...." is what I heard.
Freemiums are different now. Woodstock became free, but now we set out to give away the basics charging a few elite users for premium versions. LinkedIn, AOL and any application that pitches an "upgrade" uses payments few supporting the many. This law of large numbers is a web reality. When you reach millions 1% paid is a BIG number. No need to explain the economics of large numbers to Woodstock's promoters. They created the first Freemium in the modern marketing era (lol). Thanks to Michael and the money boys for creating magic. Maybe you didn't make money, but Woodstock will live forever and Ang Lee directs movies about you all these years later. What is that worth? K, you can ride off into the sunset now and I will too :).
Interesting Reading....for FREE (mostly)
3 Kinds of Free by Chris Anderson
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
Martin's Long Tail on Slideshare
Free Marketing In A Long Tail World on Slideshare