No, The Death Of Google Reader Doesn't Mean 'Free' Doesn't Work

from the lots-of-paid-services-fail-too dept

With the imminent death of Google Reader, I've seen a number of people whose opinions I respect quite a bit, say something about how "this shows why paying for software is important," or, alternatively "why free software isn't a good idea." One of many examples of this is Dave Winer's statement: "Next time, please pay a fair price for the services you depend on. Those have a better chance of surviving the bubbles." Mike McDerment, CEO of Freshbooks, pointed me to an article he recently wrote about "why free is bad" when it comes to "key" services. I have a ton of respect for both of these guys, and I understand exactly where they're coming from, but I don't buy it.

Plenty of "paid" services go out of business as well, and often it's because not enough people pay. So they shut down. The end result is the same thing. Obviously, services need revenue to survive, and sometimes "free" + some other business model (freemium, ads, something else) won't bring in enough revenue -- and sometimes "paid" won't bring in enough revenue. Neither business model has a "premium" so to speak on being sure to bring in enough revenue. Each has different benefits and challenges. I've seen tons of services launch with a "pay" model, only to get a dozen or so customers and have to shut down. Similarly, there have been free services that have clearly been successful and made lots of money. And lots of things in between.

As we've said before there's nothing ideologically "pure" about a fee-based business model, as opposed to one supported through other revenue streams. If you charge, you're guaranteed to have fewer users. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a huge challenge. Furthermore, the suggestion that the providers of free services don't care about their users is not definitively true either. I'm sure it's true for some services, but I get treated like crap by plenty of fee-based providers as well. Similarly, free-based providers still need to treat users right, or they go away, and there goes their business model, no matter what it is.

Simple point: just because Google couldn't make a business out of a free RSS reader, it does not mean that business models that have a free component do not work, since, obviously, much of the rest of Google's business is based on offering stuff for free, and monetizing elsewhere. And, similarly, just because you have a paid app, it does not mean that enough people will pay to make a viable business out of it. In both cases, the situations are basically the same: whatever you do, you need to be able to bring in enough revenue, and that usually needs to involve offering a good product with plenty of benefits. The business model discussion that goes on top of that is interesting, but not defining in the way some people seem to want it to be.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2013 @ 8:55pm

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the major network TV services (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX) provide free TV signals that can be received with an antenna connected to your TV. They then sell time slots to advertisers in order to earn an income. Hmmm.... TV for free.... Free TV .... I wonder how that's been working out for them.

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