Last week, I released Noise to Signal‘s first annual wall calendar.

My plan was to offer it for sale on my Zazzle store – not because I expected to retire on the proceeds, but because it was the easiest way I could think of to create and deliver it.

But there’s a part of my brain that’s now been conditioned by the social web and – in no small part – by Chris Anderson’s Free. That part of my brain kicks in every time I’m about to set a price, and asks, “Suppose the price was zero?”

I’ve done that a few times (a short e-book about getting value from your blog was one example). Open SoSi has been my company’s most ambitious free project. And of course people don’t have to pay to read the cartoon itself, and there’s a Creative Commons license on it.

So I created a PDF version of the calendar. It required some extra work, because I didn’t have Zazzle’s built-in calendar template to create the calendar grids themselves. And after a fruitless search for public domain calendar grids that would work, I created them in Word. (This step was frankly a wee bit tedious and should have been a lot more automated than they make it. Memo to Apple’s Pages app development team: a calendar template would be much appreciated.)

If I’d stuck to my original plan, I’m guessing I would have sold a handful of calendars. Instead, several thousand people viewed the calendar on SlideShare or visited the calendar post on Noise to Signal inside of a few days (and that, during the pre-Christmas traffic slump). Hundreds downloaded the PDF. The calendar made the front page of SlideShare as their Presentation of the Day as well as their “Hot on Twitter” and “Hot on Facebook” lists.

In short, instead of making what would have amounted to pocket change from a handful of people, I reached thousands of people who are new to Noise to Signal, and offered something valuable to the cartoon’s fans. That, to my way of thinking, is a pretty solid argument in favour of free.

Of course, the calendar’s available on Zazzle if you’d like a nicely printed version (they do a great job). And I’m releasing the calendar grids themselves to the public domain (PDF, 280KB).

By the way, here’s the SlideShare version: