This Week's View

by Ron Tidd
January 12th, 2008

The Cost of Free

My name is Ron Tidd. I am a tech support person for FAOL. I met the FAOL team a very long time ago when they were looking for a place to set up the FAOL website.

At the time I was working for an ISP. FAOL was being quoted outlandish sums of money for all things related to the Web. We at TSCNet were different in our philosophy, in that we wanted to help people and make a little money in the process. Most of us were in the business for the sheer love of a personal hobby that grew out of proportion, and FAOL stumbled upon us.

Well it's getting close to 10 years later now, and the ISP is gone, taking with it my dreams of free millions that others seemed to be getting in those early dot com days. I've had several changes in my life since then, and so has FAOL.

There are many reasons that the ISP is no longer around. I believe that the concept of FREE has played a major role in the demise of many good companies. From within a company's walls, to the multitudes of customers and people all looking for something for nothing, the demise of good things in our life exhibit slow but consistent patterns.

To establish the basis for my theory let's all relate to our own experiences. Where do you find the largest groupings of people in crowded grocery stores, or big warehouse stores like Costco when not stuck in line at the cash register? Near the free food samples of course. And what rows at the last trade show you went to were the most crowded? I'll bet good money that that row had the best or the most free stuff being handed out. Take the bet, come on if I'm wrong it's free money for you now isn't it?

A manufacturer of goods finds that they must play the free game these days to survive. Cell phone companies offer deep discounts on their phones, if you sign a service contract. Retail stores play the buy 2 get 1 free game. Infomercials offer extra free products or other incentives to get you to buy their main product. Many lawyers offer the first consultation free. The list goes on and on and on. The energizer bunny should have so much stamina.

The problem is that these goods and services are not free from the perspective of the provider. They paid good money or spent valuable time in obtaining those goods or services. They in turn have to pass on those costs on in the form of higher costs for the things you do actually pay for, or recoup their losses in some other fashion.

Even those FREE things you would think twice about, like a free haircut from a stranger, or free advice aren't really free. The hair cutter may be trying to get experience, and you are the test subject (free for him). The advice received for free may not be well informed, or may be biased to steer you to act in a manner they wish (at no cost to them). The list goes on. The truth is that nothing truly is free. There is always a cost.

Still, we all are suckers for something free. We can't help it. We work hard, and we absolutely love it when someone wants to give us something or do something for us for free. Hey! We deserve something nice every once in a while. But the basic truth that our grandparents told us about "getting what you pay for" has very subtle effects that often times don't show up for days, weeks or even years later.

The danger comes when too many people take advantage of a really good deal. If enough people take the free offer, the company can go out of business in a hurry unless the back end profit is great enough to offset the losses they incur. Worse yet if the campaign is successful others will emulate it, and everyone will come to expect the free goodies as the new norm. The company will have effectively lowered it's overall profits and when a leaner meaner competitor arrives, with lower costs and overhead, the original company may find it can no longer survive. The honest good deals then slowly start to disappear.

Let me give you all some FREE advice. There is only one way to stop the slow removal of actual good deals.

First off we need to actually restock our neighborhoods with little freebies for others that actually ARE good deals. Let's get people used to the idea that good things still can happen - no strings attached. And maybe they in turn will do something nice for someone else, and so on and so on. The back end costs? Well the cost is yours so you decide what the good deed is. Pay the toll for the stranger behind you at the toll booth. Buy the next person in line at Starbucks a latte. Do some volunteer work. Shovel your neighbors walk when you do your own. Whatever it takes. Do a random good deed. Make someone's day for no other reason than "you can". And the next time you pay an admission fee for your favorite park or reserve, toss in a little extra. Do something to support your favorite places.

And now that I have given you a mission, let's bring it back home shall we? Hey nothing is truly free after all. On this site or any other favorite site you visit regularly, take a good look at the entrance. Was there an admission fee? Did you pay a membership fee to access the site? No? The cost of maintaining the equipment, staff, and bandwidth to provide you this entertainment for free comes from somewhere you know. So look at that annoying banner ad with a whole new perspective, after all THEY paid so that you can enjoy the rest of the page. Hell, don't just look at it in a new light, but seriously look at it. Take a good look at what they are trying to sell you. They are already enriching your lives after all.

And when you find yourself in the market for what that advertiser is selling, remember who already has done you a favor. You might not end up purchasing from them, but they deserve your consideration when making your decision. After all they provided you with the free content you are now enjoying. That's not to say that sites littered with banner ads should be tolerated unless the content is worth it. But those with just enough ads to eek out a modest profit should be rewarded with your support. Support the site, and the advertisers that help make it all happen.

Well my backup of my laptop is about done now, so my FREE time is now at an end. Go out there and do something nice for someone. Support your public radio, and while your at it.. SUPPORT BOTH FAOL AND IT'S SPONSORS. And happy new year. I hope yours is profitable and good things come to you and yours. Oh, and don't forget to sign up for this month's FREE drawing. ~ Ron

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

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