The Illusion Of FREE*

My, what a wonderful world if we could just give away all our products for FREE*.  The more we gave away the more we would make in this new digital economy.

Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, thinks this is the way all things digital are going (As described in this BBC article.) As costs decline anything that can be digitized can be delivered for miniscule amounts that end up being delivered FREE*.

Of course there is the asterisk.  Promotions folks love the asterisk.  For most consumers Free is actually spelled FREE* in their minds eye, because they know there is always a catch. Because when a manufacturer says FREE what they are actually saying is, “there is something I want you to do.”

Broadcast television is FREE* in the truest sense of the word. It comes in over the air.  Just need a cheep (well not so much lately) set and a bit of electricity and Ta-Da, FREE* entertainment. (*however – thou must watch what we show, when we show it and suffer through however many commercial interruptions are actually necessary to pay for it.) 

So turns out consumers are very ready to give up a FREE* product for something they pay for in order to time-shift, cut commercials, or increase variety.

Will all things digital be free in the internet age?  No. FREE*, very possibly.  But that leaves open the opportunity for businesses to break away from the model and charge whatever customers may be willing to pay to get away from what FREE* actually costs.

Is your business model being altered by the internet? (Correct answer here is ‘yes’.) What does your business look like if you give everything away for FREE*.  What about if you charge so customers don’t have to pay what FREE* actually costs?


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