That 'Free' Stuff Is Catching On…

from the it's-everywhere... dept

It seems that everyone is jumping on the “free” bandwagon. Just a few weeks ago, we wrote about Kevin Kelly’s take on the subject. On Monday, Chris Anderson’s manifesto published in Wired Magazine, and at about the same time, the consumer trend research firm Trend Watching published its only monthly trend report highlighting the growing importance of “free” in business models. It’s worth reading, as it lays out not just a variety of business models that include free, but a large set of examples showing how each one works. It’s neat to see all of these different things come out at the same time — once again highlighting the concept that ideas generally aren’t formed in a vacuum. The trends that resulted in so many people recognizing the same thing at once are all around us. Yet, if we believed in the world where artificial scarcity rules, then we’d be focused on who “owned” this concept and who got the rights every time someone else mentioned it. That, of course, would be silly. By allowing so many different people to express these concepts, not only do we all get to see different perspectives on the same concept, but we get to learn from each other and build on these ideas.

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Comments on “That 'Free' Stuff Is Catching On…”

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Iron Chef says:

Great start, but fear it may be oversimplified...

Overall it probably fits best under the Marketing Budget, but based on its success, it may need to grow to be external from the business, depending on your business’ core competencies.

Additionally, part of the success is also to ensure customers/benefactors of said campaign are within certain demographic constraints that favor repeat/return business.

Otherwise, the campaign may not work as originally planned. Successful execution needs solid analytics.

Anne (profile) says:

I Am Personally Responsible For the Great Dot Com

Let me tell you about the whoring of free. By the end of 1997, I’d already been banking online for the entire decade, and was a regular online consumer and seller. When the first generation of was underway, I was a veterano, the original online road warrior.

Exhibit #1: They were always bombarding me with free coupons, anywhere from $10-50, with no minimum purchase required. That meant a $50 coupon was good for buying $50 worth of merchandise. The shipping charges were weight-based, which precluded some cheap bastard like me from buying say fifty dollars worth of free cat litter. So I bought everything else for years, and it was always free, with a modest s/h charge.

They started getting desperate. So the ante was upped to a $50 coupon for free merchandise plus free shipping. You got it. I bought $50 worth of cat litter that weighed almost 100 pounds. My UPS man asked me ‘What the hell’s in all of these boxes, cat litter?’ Yes, Kemo Sabe. The emperor indeed has no clothes.

The cat litter stash lasted longer than the entire debacle and survived at least two years beyond the crash of 2000. And it wasn’t just Pets.Com that was giving away everything for free during the boom years.

Exhibit 2:, as well as several copycat toy selling websites. One friend was out of work for a few years, and the free toys I snagged for them were the only gifts she had under the tree. Another friend who lived out of the state was buried under ten feet of snow. Her kids also had at least two years of great Christmas gifts thanks to the largess of and their brethren.

Exhibit 3: Every other pseudo-online shopping website that gave away the milk for free. ValueAmerica ??? BeautyJungle ??? Redenvelope, I think they’re still around, but the first and last thing I ever bought from them was with the free coupon they sent me.

There was only one website that engaged in the whoring of free that is still alive, and that’s They did it because at some point, they stopped enclosing free coupons in their product packages. They were also the only online retailer besides Ebay that had a variety of products that I was willing to buy, regardless of whether the milk was free or just half-price.

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