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Four Kinds of Free – Some Comments

I’ve had this link about four kinds of free (and this link too) on my list for awhile, today seems like a good to write about it. It’s a post by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, and it defines four kinds of free; buy something get something free, ad supported, freemium, and gifts. He’s gone through a couple of variations, but you get the idea – most things that are free aren’t really free. I get “free” long distance on my work phone, but it’s built into the bill somewhere.

Some of it is just good marketing. Fair enough. But there seems to be a category of people that think information should be free, and that most things online should be free. Right now that just doesn’t happen much. I’m willing to commit to writing this blog and letting people read it for free, though you could argue (and I’d agree) that it’s a marketing tool for my personal brand. I could probably afford to pay the hosting of it as well if needed. But what happens when the cost starts to be a $100 a month? Do I still provide it for “free”, or do I throw up some ads to try to defray the cost…or even make a profit?

We’ve evolved into a game where everything is “free” but paid for by advertising. Maybe that will work long term, I don’t know. The problem is that you get a fair percentage that mentally block the ads unless really intrusive (which I understand), and a smaller percentage that use technology to just remove the ads. So here are a couple questions:

  • Is it stealing to block the ads?
  • Is it stealing to ignore the ads?
  • What would happen if no one read or clicked the ads?

I’d say in the first case, yes – it’s stealing. Petty theft no doubt, but it’s wanting to be all take and no give. The second one – there I think the challenge is on the ad designer and the site owner to make it interesting and not overload the ads presented. On the third, in most cases the content would disappear, because without a financial incentive no one would want to keep doing it at anything beyond the blog level.


I'm not here to be ad police, but there are two interesting points. One is to step back from the marketing messages and make sure we're happy with the overall cost - just being a smart consumer. The other is to consider if your expectations of what should be free are realistic and fair.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


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