Friday, February 6, 2009

There’s Still No Free Lunch

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There never was. There never will be.
Right? Right.

But the internet seems to have erased or, at least, blurred the concept. There are tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of sites that seemingly offer something for nothing. You’ve probably been on a thousand of them yourself. “Click here for your free <insert whatever here>.”

Free? Hardly. You’ve got to enter your data, at the very least your email address, to get what’s being offered. That was your payment: your contact information for future marketing efforts. Hey, if you’re really interested in the product, it’s a deal! And it’s a deal for the marketer because they’re after the data in the first place, and the more they can collect the better.

That concept, “click here for your free…” has altered our concept of getting a free lunch. It certainly seems free and has raised expectation that "free" reigns online.

I recently followed a chatroom string in which folks were trashing an online job posting board because the site took (wait for it…) a fee from every transaction. That’s right a fee from every transaction! Heaven forbid! A fee! On the internet! It was obviously unthinkable to them.

I wanted to chime in: “Someone has to work to keep the site operational and write all the code that makes the thing work in the first place (and work very nicely, if I might interject). You don’t work for free. Why should they?” But I kept quiet and clicked off assuming it would fall on deaf ears (or should that be “blind eyes” now?).

Oh sure, there are some whoppers out there that are free: Google, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, to name a few. Make that seemingly free – they’re selling ads (not unlike broadcast media) and collecting valuable data.

But for the most part, online business is just that: business. I’ve got a product or information that’s got some value to you. I’m going to charge you a fair price. It’s the foundation of capitalism, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. If you don’t like my price (or that fact that I’m going to charge you in the first place), by all means, search Google to see if you can find someone who’ll part with it for free. And good luck to you.

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