Is The Future of Free Over?
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Its an interesting discussion. Over the past 20 years we have enjoyed an incredible amount of free information, content, music and services over the internet. The internet has accrued millions of human hours that have provided both reading, entertainment and free services that have added convenience to our life. If we added the time that humans have produced digital assets and services, its been a boom of growth in our economy over the past 2 decades just not seen in our GDP, but more like digital value.
Free product and services has helped us in the great divide as we moved into the new digital and global economy that was so new and full of possibilities. It allowed us to explore new innovations without any risk to those willing to partake. Anyone could put what they wanted on the internet to see if someone would watch, read or later buy it. That expanded to watching what others bought and wrote, then to crowd sourced products and politics and now to governmental security and services.
So, with so much digital capital running over our silicon server towers, how long can we continue to support free?
As we move toward intelligent digital infrastructure, we see new digital economies being built. Financial Services has also, evolved from the early 80s with its free app (eTrade) which drove new levels of citizen day traders for a fee for trade and if we look at the next evolution we see now blockchain and future crypto influenced currencies, ICO and SCO mostly driven by the public moving away from a highly regulated industry.
And then there is Telecom, which went from offering a free phone with cellular and/or internet services, which has now expanded to a host of smart home apps leveraging bluetooth technology and soon to come 5G all while moving toward a "pay-for-what you use" model now.
Broadcast is another example. As any good economy is made up of supply and demand, users demand to view entertainment on their own time, socially and inside their digital lifestyle has moved consumer taste from Free TV (airways) to "cut the corders" choosing the flexibility and variety of internet TV programming over traditional TV.
So is the future of Free at risk? Free came because there was no demand yet for internet goods and services. As new innovative service entered the market Free was a great way to get new customers. But now that 20 years of products have evolved each one getting closer to the other, free may just go away or provide the most basic of services that even the most casual user will eventually pay.
What chance do we have that free services might be here to stay? Infrastructure development in the major industry sectors. For each industry there has to be a means for services or product to arrive to some sort of payment. As infrastructures grow, the distribution of cost can be cleverly disguised in advertising, future sales of product, sale of data to drive you to eventually make a purchase. Something we are more likely to want to allow instead of paying for services. Free is evolving, giving basic services to partial services that make it more a try and buy than a true free product.
For now we are still fortunate to enjoy free music, movies, navigation, storage space, video conferencing, voip calls, news services, reminders, apps, and even my favorite free Starbucks free gifts as we move into a more mature era of the Internet.
Diane Bernard, CEO of Social Influent