Tag Archives: flickr

Free is Fashionable, But Still, Beware of Free Lunches

I’ve been thinking about this Free business a lot. There’s Chris Anderson’s book Free, and the debate around it. There’s free content everywhere. I find great free photos on Flickr. And I read free blogs every day.

It’s not like free is all that new. I grew up with free radio and television, funded by advertising. And the free prize in the Cracker Jack package. And free weekends for people naive enough to think they weren’t just an opportunity for sales pitching the condos. Free drinks, free lunches, and free seminars were never really free.

I compete against free. Since 1995 I’ve made my living with software that’s for sale, not free. It gets pirated a lot. And it competes with a lot of free stuff.

And I market with free. My company’s business plan resource site  Bplans.com is free. My last book, which sells in bookstores and Amazon.com as a book, is also free for reading from start to finish at PlanAsYouGo.com. I’ve done about 2,000 blog posts since 2007, all for free.

Still, today, in this new world, you have to be able to distinguish real free, like a great photo on Flickr, from fake free, like a free seminar that’s a veiled sales pitch.

  1. Some kinds of self expression, like writing, photography, art, music, and performance, will always compete against free. The greats, I hope, will continue to make money because they’ll stand out enough to generate some economics; but the almost-greats, and the greats-but-undiscovered, will do it for free. I’ve seen great writing and great photography for free on the Web. People do this; they create because they want to create, and they often do it for free. Sure, we all hope to be the commercial successes with our self expressions, but few of us are.
  2. Some professions are diluted by free contributions. This isn’t new either. I was a professional journalist, full time, as my means of making a living, for almost 10 years. One thing I didn’t like about it was that it was so much fun, and so basically interesting, that there was always somebody new willing to do it for less. That was in the 1970s. Earlier this month I read this Los Angeles Times piece about the difficult plight of freelancers, which is really the same thing as in the 1970s. There’s more of it, but it’s the same thing.
  3. You’re in a tough spot if you’re competing against something a lot of people will do, and reasonably well, for free. Like writing articles, for example, in my previous point. People will do it for free because they want to. I think that’s why there are so many fabulous musicians playing for tips or nothing at all, actors acting for free in local theaters, and photographers offering freebies on Flickr.
  4. As a consumer of free stuff, such as free content, you have to look for the business model. One thing I really like about advertising is that it explains free content. One thing I like about Web advertising is it doesn’t (usually) interrupt either. You don’t have to click. Where there isn’t advertising, you have to look behind the curtain for a driver. Sometimes it’s pride, sometimes establishing credibility, sometimes just honest free expression; but there’s also a ton of modern-day equivalent of the cynical seminar as sales pitch. Don’t be naive about it. Free is a legitimate marketing strategy, but don’t confuse free as a marketing strategy with free as free.

So sure, there’s occasionally a free lunch for a good reason. Free samples make for future customers. But don’t take it at face value. Figure out why it’s free.

(Image: Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock)

Good Coffee, Good Morning, Good Pictures

Here it is Friday, but it’s a special Friday because we had Thanksgiving yesterday so nobody will be in the office today. I woke up late on a dark, rainy day, made my coffee, savoring the smell of the freshly ground beans and the process of grinding and filtering and all. Browsed email, Twitter, the web. Everybody else was asleep upstairs.

What to do? Do I catch up on a collection of blog posts I mean to write? Get to that op-ed piece for the local newspaper? Work on the book that’s cooking in the back of my mind? I’m really glad I can’t do any calls today (I’m chairing an angel investment group and I’m behind on calls to members) so that isn’t even an option.

All of this reminds me that I really like what I do. I have for years, but more so since I stopped running the company and focused on blogging, writing, speaking, and teaching. I get to my office happily. I enjoy the work. Still, a break every so often is a good thing. Everybody needs a slow day now and then. I decided to look for a picture to go with this post, and my mood on this morning, so I browsed Flickr for “coffee.”

So, in honor of that soft, slow beginning of the day today, I found this picture on Flickr. Title: “Hot Coffee on a Rainy Day.” Taken by David Joyce (deapeajay on Flickr). And taken almost exactly a year ago, end of November. He says

“This photo didn’t get the overall impact I was aiming for, but here it is anyway.  I was trying to capture the experience of drinking coffee by a large window on a rainy afternoon. That’s always been one of the most serene settings for me.”

It struck me as exactly on target for me and this post today, although it’s morning for me. And I like the reminder that Flickr is a really good resource. And, to top that off, here’s another really nice Fall photo from David Joyce. He calls it “Last Leaf of Fall.”

GDGT: No, Please, Not Another Social Media Site!

I read it last weekend on the New York Times website. It’s about a new gadget site to be called GDGT starting this week, developed by founders of other gadget site successes. Get this:

Their new site, called GDGT, will open to visitors on Wednesday. It differs from Engadget or Gizmodo by aspiring to be a gadget-oriented social network. Users of the site can create profiles and specify which consumer electronics devices they have, had or want to buy. Then they can talk about those devices with other owners, discuss new trends and tips, and decide how and when to replace them. (Emphasis mine)

Granted, Twitter changes everything, Facebook too, and Ning is sensational. But please (that’s a three-or-four-syllable p-l-e-a-s-e) — when does this end. Are there infinite successful new ventures out there from just taking any common interest (like gadgets) and making them into social media sites instead? Isn’t there a saturation point?

Take my case; and I’m getting older now, I’m hardly the advance guard. But I have username and password for three of the obvious mainstream social media sites, plus groups including Entrepreneur.com, Smartups.org, asbdc.net, the Business Week social site, and several others I can’t remember.

And that’s the active phrase there: “several others I can’t remember.

I love gadgets. My son-in-law Noah and I exchange links and such about gadgets all the time. But the last thing I need is yet another new site, with another new password and username, that I’m supposed to be checking for messages. Not that username and password are a problem — plenty of tools for that — but that’s just not going to happen. It’s not just logging in, it’s finding the time and inclination to log into all of these special sites.

And maybe it’s an overdose from my business plan marathon last Spring. Every other new business is building a new social media site to bring people together.

And I just don’t think that’s going to work. Build a group in Facebook, or a chat group in Twitter, or something else that uses the ties and links we already have. Don’t give us another social media site.