Always New Mistakes

April 8, 2008

Free as in Virus

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 11:08 pm

I am writing this post as I’m flying over Tulsa on my way to San Francisco. This is my 10th hour of flight and I just realized something that many might think is stupid. During my transoceanic flight from Madrid to Atlanta I had free movies on board. The same goes for free earphones, free peanuts, free drinks or free cookies during the flight. While waiting for my connection at Atlanta I tried to use the airport’s wifi but, as I expected, you had to pay $7.50 for a 24h connection. On my current flight you have to pay to watch any movie ($6), you have to pay $2 to get some earphones and you have to pay if you want to eat some miserable cookies (you guessed, I didn’t pay for anything). Suddenly something has stricken me pretty hard and I know I’ve discussed this issue with some people (Say hi to Mark Evans!).
I’m so used to free services that I expect everything to be free. And mind me, that’s just wrong, very wrong. I just realized how wrong I am. $7.50 for a 24h Internet connection is very cheap for International Standards (specially if you have Euros as I do).

The problem here isn’t that some products are free of charge, the problem arises when you expect “everything” to be free. There are always exceptions to this, like the case of wifi at hotels. I still don’t get why after spending $150 per night in a hotel I don’t have free wifi. I truly believe wifi is accounted in the high price I pay for the room, but surprise, every single time I ask for wifi I have to pay some really expensive pluses.

Anyhow, many other things really deserve to be paid for. I do have a problem, I’ve never paid for a software product (ok, ok, Microsoft licenses maybe). As a programmer, anytime I needed something I tried to find a free alternative and/or code the extra functionality I needed. Although this is a cool way to save money, it does takes you much more time an effort. Not only that, most probably you won’t code a better software in just a couple of hours.

And so back to my point, I realized that I have to start learning to pay for services I use and like. My question is this: Is this the general evolution of market perception? Am I the only one realizing that an exclusive freemium world mentality is unsustainable? Will more people start realizing this and start shifting to pay per use models?

Now, more interestingly, what are the conditions a pay-per-use model needs to have to be used by a fairly large segment of a market? In my opinion, it needs to deliver two things:

  1. Create more value than their competitor’s free services (no surprise here)
  2. Get the users to understand why they should pay you for your service.

We need to really start stressing the importance of paid services as we do a horrible job at it. First of all, the value – price relation MUST be fair. Too expensive and users wont pay it, even if they like your product. Too few value and users won’t understand why they should pay you either. These concepts seem rather trivial but I have the feeling we should go back to basics with this issue.

Now that I think about it, I truly wonder if this business model is even valid anymore. Either we go back to basics with a new breed of paid models or we find a way to indirectly cash in thousands of users. Either way, I predict that true free services will die (except those that are under the umbrella of a company that can accept the looses). If that ever happens, I wonder if people will go back to paid services. You know, history is cyclic, maybe it’s time to get back to the “old” revenue model but with a nice 3.0 twist.

Now some questions for all the readers, under what circumstances would you pay for an online service? Would you consider a monthly fee, anual fee or a per usage fee? Any ideas and comments are greatly appreciated!

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