I love free. Free samples, free downloads, 20% extra for free. I go all silly over give-aways and recently went to a women’s fashion store opening in Covent Garden just for the free red balloon (it was a quality balloon…). So it was hardly an epiphany when I read Predictably Irrational’s chapter on why we love free things. But I got it.
The net also loves free. Ever since Geocities and blogging engines let us build “the people’s web” (or web 2.0 if you will), we’ve been sharing our photos, thoughts and (overly) personal information with the world. Napster gave us music for free and iPlayer is now streaming free TV for us. Why pay for anything ever again?
A few weeks ago I touched on how we’ve become used to free online services and media and put it down to people’s reluctance to spend in unstable times. But I think there it’s more than that. As Rory Sutherland, head of the IPA, put it “people are losing sight of the value of online products and services”. Why pay for something you can get for free?
In a world of free downloads and ad supported media networks, companies have to somehow claw back the money they’ve invested in their products. It doesn’t matter whether it’s through a pay-wall, free-mium model, or agglomeration of subscriptions. Publishers and content producers have to find a way to entice us into paying for their services. Mr Sutherland’s right: marketing of these products is not be about adding value but retrieving it.