IPcentral Weblog
  The DACA Blog

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Danger of "The Danger of Free"
(previous | next)

Alex Iskold has a very interesting post about "The Danger of Free" over at the Read Write Web blog. But I think he overstates the case a bit when he asks "is the concept of free taking us down a dangerous road?" He pretty much answers that question in the affirmative:

Marketers long ago figured out the attractiveness of free. For decades companies have been playing tricks using free to lure naive customers. But recently, our obsession with free has given rise to a new phenomenon - where the customer is never asked to pay. How? Because the business makes their money on advertising. Marketers are happy to pay for access to customers, who in turn love not having to pay. So the web plays the glorious role of middle man. Are we heading into dangerous territory? The paths that we are taking lead to confused customers at best; and monopolistic practices at worst. A culture where consumers think that increasingly more and more services should be free is not healthy.

I'm not so sure. I don't want the digital generation to grow up thinking everything online is one big free-ride, but do they really think that? They still pay for plenty of stuff, after all. (I wish they'd be willing to pay a little something more than zero for copyrighted content, but that's another story). Generally speaking, this generation is paying for plenty of gadgets and gizmos (think game consoles and games themselves, or iPhones and other mobile devices, or PCs, etc.)

But what's so bad about them pushing for more and better services at a lower price, or even no price? They understand there are trade-offs to getting "free" goods or services just like previous generations did when the sat down in front of the boob-tube to watch "free" over-the-air television, or listen to broadcast radio in their cars. As Iskold correctly notes in the conclusion of his essay:

The bottom line is there is no free lunch. When you go on vacation and see a sign that says Free Lunch you know that the timeshare sales pitch is going to accompany it. The free on the web is not free either. We are receiving the services in exchange for our time and attention, in exchange for the opportunity to be advertised to.

Yeah, so what's the problem again? Most of us understand the trade-offs and that there really are no perfectly free lunches. But the danger of Iskold treating "free" as a problem and going so far as to conclude (incorrectly, I might add) that it leads to "confused customers and monopolistic practices" is that it is just another invitation for government to come and muck things up. Think about it: the logical conclusion of Iskold's argument is that the government should step in to protect consumers from free goods and services! We truly are a spoiled lot in America.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:21 PM | Generic Rant

Share |

Link to this Entry | Printer-Friendly

Post a Comment:

Blog Main
RSS Feed  
Recent Posts
  EFF-PFF Amicus Brief in Schwarzenegger v. EMA Supreme Court Videogame Violence Case
New OECD Study Finds That Improved IPR Protections Benefit Developing Countries
Hubris, Cowardice, File-sharing, and TechDirt
iPhones, DRM, and Doom-Mongers
"Rogue Archivist" Carl Malamud On How to Fix Gov2.0
Coping with Information Overload: Thoughts on Hamlet's BlackBerry by William Powers
How Many Times Has Michael "Dr. Doom" Copps Forecast an Internet Apocalypse?
Google / Verizon Proposal May Be Important Compromise, But Regulatory Trajectory Concerns Many
Two Schools of Internet Pessimism
GAO: Wireless Prices Plummeting; Public Knowledge: We Must Regulate!
Archives by Month
  September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
  - (see all)
Archives by Topic
  - A La Carte
- Add category
- Advertising & Marketing
- Antitrust & Competition Policy
- Appleplectics
- Books & Book Reviews
- Broadband
- Cable
- Campaign Finance Law
- Capitalism
- Capitol Hill
- China
- Commons
- Communications
- Copyright
- Cutting the Video Cord
- Cyber-Security
- Digital Americas
- Digital Europe
- Digital Europe 2006
- Digital TV
- E-commerce
- e-Government & Transparency
- Economics
- Education
- Electricity
- Energy
- Events
- Exaflood
- Free Speech
- Gambling
- General
- Generic Rant
- Global Innovation
- Googlephobia
- Googlephobia
- Human Capital
- Innovation
- Intermediary Deputization & Section 230
- Internet
- Internet Governance
- Internet TV
- Interoperability
- IP
- Local Franchising
- Mass Media
- Media Regulation
- Monetary Policy
- Municipal Ownership
- Net Neutrality
- Neutrality
- Non-PFF Podcasts
- Ongoing Series
- Online Safety & Parental Controls
- Open Source
- PFF Podcasts
- Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism
- Privacy
- Privacy Solutions
- Regulation
- Search
- Security
- Software
- Space
- Spectrum
- Sports
- State Policy
- Supreme Court
- Taxes
- The FCC
- The FTC
- The News Frontier
- Think Tanks
- Trade
- Trademark
- Universal Service
- Video Games & Virtual Worlds
- VoIP
- What We're Reading
- Wireless
- Wireline
Archives by Author
PFF Blogosphere Archives
We welcome comments by email - look for a link to the author's email address in the byline of each post. Please let us know if we may publish your remarks.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation