How Much Would You Pay For Free?

How much would you pay to use Twitter? How about Facebook? Gmail? Would answering a simple "How much would you pay for it?" question help us to understand how the valuable is perceived differently from the disposable?

I was going through a credit card bill and among the usual sad thoughts the activity conjures there was one relevant to this blog.

There are a lot of online services out there, and I'm actively using a fraction of them. I pay for some, but many are free. The question is, why am I paying for the ones that are on my bill even though there are free alternatives, and which free ones would I pay for if the free ride abruptly stopped, and it was either-or?

I've never bought a ringtone and am not planning to, but I think I've spent around $100 on similarly ethereal Second Life objects over a few months.

I pay for Skype and for Rebtel (very convenient VoIP for cell phones), two cell phones, but (or, perhaps, hence) no land line.

I used to pay for Angie's List but don't have any need for it after moving to a managed building. (Besides, their monthly subscription model feels wrong -- I don't need to fix my plumbing every month. Plus you need to call them during office hours to cancel.) I would pay for Craigslist if I had to. I'd rather pay on demand than monthly. I think between $5 and $10 for a week of usage is about right. I would also pay the same amount for a "pro" version with better search, even if a free standard version was available.

I gladly pay for Flickr not because I can't live without the service, but because, like many Mac users, I think that the attention that goes into designing a flawless experience deserves to be rewarded. I'm sure a part of the fee pays for the "pro" next to my name, too.

To be visually entertained, I pay for the basic cable, broadband, and a Netflix-like subscription from Blockbuster. I'd drop Blockbuster and pay the $20 monthly bucks for a Hulu-like service with a decent library of streaming movies and shows. I have never bought a movie DVD from a store or a TV show from iTunes. (Do people with large DVD collections watch each movie at least four times to justify the $20 instead of renting it at $5 each time? I know it makes sense to buy DVDs for kids since they can be entertained by re-runs forever.)

Out all the free stuff I use, I'd pay for Google if it suddenly made all of its services paid. Depending on the price structure, I'd rather be paying for a subscription to everything than piece-meal for each service. If I had to pick piece-meal, I'd pay for search, Gmail, maps and reader. I am among those Blogger users who've been demanding a paid service for years in exchange for a hint of customer service and advanced features. (To its credit, Blogger has significantly improved over time.)

I would pay for email in general if it suddenly stopped being a free utility. Unfortunately, there isn't much room for price elasticity there.

I wouldn't pay for Facebook or MySpace (especially if I were already paying for email), but probably would for LinkedIn. Probably not, or very little each time I need something, for YouTube or other similar sites. Not for Twitter or any of the instant messengers (assuming I had a cellphone or email).

I'd pay for an RSS reader (Google's, especially if it had an offline client), but don't know whether and how much I'd pay for individual blog subscriptions. Maybe it would be a buck for any ten -- so, $10 for any combination of 100 feeds a month, pro-rated weekly, with the money distributed back to publishers by the aggregating service. If it were a universal model, I wonder which blogs would end up with most subscribers.

There is, of course, a difference between paying for a service in the sense of a general set of functionalities (email, social networking, photo-sharing) and a paying to a particular provider for the service (Gmail, Facebook, Flickr).

Which sets of functions that are free do you think are worth paying for? I included a quick poll below; if you are on RSS and don't see it, please take a minute to come over and submit your answer.

P.S. There's a lot of talk and an entire upcoming book about the business model of free. I recommend F'd Companies, a book about similar models that tanked during the dot-com boom, as a fair-time reading.


  1. You're in luck. Google Reader is offline courtesy of Google Gears:

  2. Well, I'd pay for most services.
    I do pay for Flickr, which is great, and last week I did it for Lastfm, for which I found out paying is useless.

    I love Lastfm, but I haven't seen any advantage on paying for that so far. They could offer much more, I guess.


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