Free has worked as a great business strategy for drug dealers for ages. Give them the first taste for free, get them addicted, they will come back for more and be willing to pay for it. Unfortunately, I’m not selling drugs.
Free can only work, as drug dealers have taught us, when it is backed up by some other way to make money. When it is used as a marketing tactic and not as a business model. Because, it turns out, when given the option of paying for something or getting it for free, most people (and some businesses) pick free. Not Free, just free. And not just free beer, they want mixed drinks.
This free marketing tactic used for the one thing has to support the paid business model of some other thing. Otherwise there is no revenue. Revenue. It is not evil or bad or republican to want to make money. It is what allows my company to pay me (and many 1000s of others). This is not evil. It is good. Good Witch of the North good.
Free has been enormously successful for many businesses to drive adoption. But free is just the first half of the equation. It goes like this. Give something useful away for free and people will pay for this other thing in order to do more, get more, run more, be more. Problem is the second part of the equation where at some point someone pays someone for something.
The problem for businesses is that we can get what we need for free and we can support ourselves through our extended communities online and offline, and we hardly need to pay for anything anymore. Which is great for us as consumers, but not for us as companies and not for us as employees of those companies.
No, I don’t really believe that free is going to go away, but more focus is going to have to be put on the second half of that equation where someone pays for something. We are emerging flushed and fulfilled from the Consumer Age of Free. Time to batten down our wallets, I believe we are about to enter the Impulse Age of Cheap. We got our first taste for free, but now we are addicted. Pay up.