Under normal circumstances, that Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson’s latest book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, logged over 17,000 free views in one day on upstart “social publisher” Scribd would be the story. The story, however, might lurk in the comments left on the Scribd web site.

“Well it’s not really “FREE” at all, is it?” groused one unsatisfied customer, complaining the book couldn’t be downloaded, but read only in the browser on Scribd. “False advertising!” screeched another assessment. When Anderson weighed in to tell Scribd readers that there would be free downloads available next week, “why not make an e-book available already?” came the response, which derisively labeled publisher Hyperion as “old school.”

Welcome to Chris Anderson’s world. In the weeks leading up to this week’s publication of Free, the author of the bestselling The Long Tail has seen his latest book assailed by traditional journalists, including the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell, characterized by reviewers as simple, even dangerous, and at the same time slammed by others for not being free enough. A controversy over passages lifted from Wikipedia didn’t help.

For Anderson, however, it all just confirms that he’s on to something. “I knew that the word ‘free’ was a misunderstood, confusing word, and it has triggered fear and longing in equal amounts. I’m now dealing with the consequences of just how complicated the word is,” he told PW. “But I would rather start a conversation about free, even in wildly misinformed, polarized, noisy ways, if it gets people thinking."

Anderson concedes he is a little surprised by how much “fear” has accompanied the book’s publication, but says time and downloads—and, hopefully strong sales of the “premium edition,” that is, the printed book—will elevate the discourse. “The first wave was ‘Chris Anderson thinks everything should be free, what an idiot,’” he says. “Now, some grudgingly acknowledge that’s not what the book is about, but that free is still stupid. But that’s just two days after publication. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the debate over my book prior to publication was misinformed. What would be disappointing is if the debate going forward remains so, given how easy it is to become informed.”

Indeed, as Anderson explained to PW in a May 18 cover story, the book is not about how everything should be free, but about how the economics of free are developing in the increasingly digital world. Hyperion, in fact, has made a strong bet on one of Anderson’s major arguments: “freemium,” that is using free, somewhat lesser versions of content, such as book views on Scribd and Google Books, or a free audiobook, to spur sales of the better, "premium" version, the book. Hyperion has come out of the gate with an initial print run of 80,000 copies.

Although it’s too early to judge the results of what Anderson calls "the experiment" via book sales, another part of the experiment, he noted, was to attempt to “steer the conversation to the topics I am actually writing about, rather than those people would project upon me.” So far, that has been met with decidedly mixed results, as the book has sparked strong, somewhat visceral reactions among many readers and reviewers in the media—and not all of it based on the book’s content—perhaps understandably.

“Totally,” Anderson replies when asked if the struggles of the media may be affecting the book’s reception. “We knew going in that collapse of newspapers was gong to be the meta-narrative, even though that’s not what the book is about. I was prepared to deal with that," he says. "What I didn’t anticipate was how angry media people are right now. I should have anticipated it. I am in that industry. I may have a somewhat rosy-tinted view of journalists as being largely drawn by intellectual curiosity, but they are also people, and they are people in the midst of a once- in-a-lifetime industry collapse. How the media industry has to reform is not yet clear. I don’t have answers for them.”