Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

Jason Falls on “Free Stuff” – How Long Will It Last?
July 8, 2009, 10:00 am
Filed under: Article Reviews

I think Jason Falls is a rockstar. He lives about 2 hours down the road from me in Louisville, KY, but we’ve only “met” once (I use the term loosely because we were both in attendance at a Cincinnati Social Media Breakfast meeting last year, but we didn’t get to have a conversation). His blog is always chock-full of great content, thoughtful ideas, and blunt honesty. About a week ago, Jason discussed a topic that I too have been thinking a lot  about lately – the idea that so many things today are “free”, or so we think, and how long that can possibly last. After all, businesses are in existence to make money for themselves, not to provide us with cool free stuff.

Jason’s inspiration for the post was a conversation with a friend who said, “I love my DVR. I haven’t watched a commercial in months.” When asked how long he expects to still be watching his favorite shows, the friend looked puzzled. Jason’s reply:

“The avoidance of those commercials means those shows will eventually be cancelled. You’re killing your own chances of being able to watch them by watching just them.”

Nothing is ever truly free. Henry A. Wallace, the US Vice President from 1941 – 1945, wrote an article originally published by The Atlantic Monthly in which he suggested a post-WWII worldwide economic regime offering ‘minimum standards of food, clothing and shelter’. While this sounds well and good, an observant journalist named Paul Mallon wrote a response to the article which was published in several US papers:

“Mr. Wallace neglects the fact that such a thing as a ‘free’ lunch never existed. Until man acquires the power of creation, someone will always have to pay for a free lunch.”

Think about the unconferences, podcamps, social media breakfasts, and other various gatherings we attend today where we’re not charged. Someone has to provide the meeting facilities, the equipment, and the ‘free lunch’. In exchange, we owe it to these people and companies to hear what they have to offer. But oftentimes, we brush it off as just another sales pitch. Continuing with this entitlement attitude will cause these fantastic free events to no longer be available to us, and then we’re going to have to *gasp* start paying for stuff.

Jason continues on to say in his post:

“What we’ve created is a marketplace that isn’t sustainable…While I’m not one to predict all the good ideas have been had, the disproportionate amount of money that is being poured into technology startups these days makes me shudder to think what the entrepreneurs will do when the investors come calling wanting their money back.”

Hey, I’m with you. I do love Hulu, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love getting a good deal and I’m all about the free stuff. But we need to pay our respects to the companies that provide us with the freebies.

I think back to one of my favorite books as a little girl, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. In the book, the little boy always takes from the tree, never giving anything in return, until finally the boy cuts down the tree in order to make a sailboat, and the tree has nothing left to give. Some say that this book is a story about selfless love, but in this sense we are the little boy who continually takes [freebies] and never gives anything in return [purchases]. Eventually, our giving trees [the companies and individuals which provide us with the ‘free’ stuff] will be merely treestumps, and we’ll be sitting beside those stumps wondering what happened.

Let’s not take too much advantage – support those businesses and people who support you with the freebies, or else they won’t be around for long. Please check out Jason’s entire post here, The Economy of Free Is Stupid.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I totally agree! Great post!

Comment by Tracey Nolte

Glad I gave you something to think about and write about. Honored you’d point to my stuff. Great piece!

Comment by Jason Falls

Great points Amybeth. Thanks for sharing.

Max Kalehoff has a thought-provoking perspective re: the TV advertising points you and Jason Falls make:

Being able to fast forward commercials may actually provide marketers with personalized info on viewers in order to better target them. If all the ads on your TV were relevant to your preferences, would you still skip over them?

Comment by Kristin Kalscheur

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