Even On the Internet, Free Isn’t Really Free


Those of us in the connected generations – adults who’ve lived in a world with Internet access for most of our lives – have a different view of things online versus off. In the real world, walking around, we expect to have to open our wallets and pay for most of the goods and services we use. We cannot walk into a grocery store or shopping mall, pick up what we’d like, and just leave with it. Yet when we go online, that paradigm flips and we expect most of the things we access to be cost-free.

For example, we will pay money out of pocket to purchase a pen and pad of paper from the office supply store so that we can write notes or jot down a quick spreadsheet to figure financials. Yet many of us scoff at people who pay Microsoft hundreds of dollars to buy Office when they could have downloaded Open Office or used Google Apps without paying a dime.

In startup marketing, one of the common catch phrases you’ll hear is “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”

This refers to the Internet-only phenomenon of marketing to potential users for a website or app not to sell the site or app to them, but just to get them to show up. Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds of thousands of other websites and applications do this. They ask you only to sign up (FOR FREE!) and use their service.

What they’re doing is obvious to most of us. We understand that while we’re using their service, they’ll be sending advertising our way as a means towards paying for it all. We often accept this without thinking.

But look at the phrase above and think about it. This means that you, the user, the person they’ve enticed into using their website or app.. you are the product. They aren’t selling a website or application, they’re selling you. To the highest bidder – often literally if pay-per-click is their advertising method of choice.

What this means is that you, reading this blog, are a product. I’ve written this content in order to entice you to come to my blog and read it. Once you’re here, I’ve sold your time here to an advertiser.

Don’t take this the wrong way. It’s not a bad thing. But it should change your perspective on things.

When you spend your time at a website, using an app, etc., you (and that time) become a product for that website or app to sell. This realization should be an empowerment to you. Since you are now the important commodity, not the app, not the website, not the guy writing the blog.. but you, who visited them.. your perspective should be different.

This means that you are in charge of who “makes it” and who doesn’t. You should already be aware that your time is valuable. You only have so much of it (24 hours in a day, right?) so you should spend it well. If a product or service is not up to par, is not really useful to you, or doesn’t appear to take your time seriously – don’t use it. Rather than put up with sub-par offerings because “they’re free,” you should either pay for the better alternative (thus saving time) or demand better service. After all, you’re the real value to the provider, not the product itself. If they don’t understand that, they’re going to go out of business when their startup funds dry up anyway. Just ask Instagram.

Remember how important you are and that you are paying for the services you use, even if it’s not directly. Thus those services should be everything you expect or you shouldn’t bother using them.

Published by

James Burchill

James is a fan of practical "what" and "how to" information and enjoys showing you how to 'convert conversations into cash' using social media, online marketing and live events.

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