Should Everything be Free Online?

Chances are, you have given away more than you have charged for…

For a lot of people, what they expect and get from their digital experiences isn’t even close to being reality. Want a few easy examples? OK.

  • One of the most prevalent business models in the online world is to build a product or service and then give it away for free.
  • Another prevalent business model in the online world is to build a product or service, give it away for free while trying to make money on people buying “other” things while in your store.
  • Consumers look for alternatives when they realize that they have to pay to access content online.

Could you imagine someone setting up shop in your neighborhood and giving away a product or service in their store for free forever?

Somewhere along the way, someone got the notion that “value” should be given away for free.

I’m not sure how or why it began like this, actually I have an idea, but the truth is, social media has not helped temper the consumer expectation that the majority of all things on the web should be free.  It’s actually been gasoline on an open flame. Does Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, Tumblr, WordPress, Posterous, Typepad, Flickr and Evernote amongst others, charge to use their platforms at an entry level? No.

Look, I like free just as much as the next person but so much is being given away online that it’s diluting the need for and the value of products and services that consumers actually need and should have to pay for. Thus, consumers have been trained or conditioned to think that they can find an equivalent for free.

Which sadly, is usually the case.

This in turn means that web entities are constantly fighting an uphill battle for proving their legitimacy, their meaning and their value.  But where we as marketers, as media and as consumers come up short, is that we have professed so much about how open the web is and how anything is possible and how you can find anything, anywhere…to an extent that we keep wounding the golden goose and we keep bending and altering our digital expectations.

There’s a simple solution.

We have to level set expectations up front.

Not too long ago there was a book out titled Bounce by Matthew Syed, in it, the author contends that most of us are amazed at and marvel at athletic achievement at the elite level, but what we don’t know or see, is how hard great athletes at that level, work at their craft to become, ”great.” We just think it’s their natural ability coming through and that’s what propelled them to the top.

The same holds true for a lot of people and companies in tech. We want to solve problems, we want to make life easier, we want to show how beautiful and easy something might be to create, or we want to share information that can make our lives easier. But what do we do?  A very poor job of intimating how hard it might take, how long it might have taken, and the money and resources required to just get in a position to be successful online.

And then, at the end of the day we punt, and are conditioned to think that the clearest path to success is to give it away for free. We’ll set up a pricing model later… Look, digital is not free, somewhere somebody is getting paid because of your current web experience.

We need to level set expectations up front not after the fact.  Value what you do.

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The Deets

Marc Meyer is a Digital and Social Media Strategist at DRMG. This is my personal blog where I share observations, thoughts and opinions that are all my own.

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