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The Price of Free

by Clint Watson on 11/19/2008 8:48:00 AM

Everybody loves free services.  Free is good right?

Consider this:  there's an old adage that says, "You get what you pay for . . . ."

Free Services are Great . . . . Until they Disappear

Recently we ran across a post at Barney Davey's Art Print Issues blog about the death of Blog Rush.   Some bloggers (like Barney) liked Blog Rush and were dismayed to see it go under.  But the death of Blog Rush underscores an important point that artists need to consider when they choose online services to rely upon . . . . for your most important marketing efforts, make sure that you work with companies that you know will still be standing tomorrow.

Free services are great . . . . until they disappear.  When you work with a free service, you are not really that service's customer.  You are a means for them to generate page views that they hope they can eventually "monetize" in some way. But many free services (like Twitter and Facebook) haven't really yet figured out how to get profitable.  And in this economy, they had better figure it out fast.

Barney's post also references an article by Rafe Needleman, on CNET News, titled, 11 troubled Web companies: The next Kozmos?  Needleman lists 11 companies that he thinks have the potential to disappear during this economic downturn.  Take a look at the following list and ask yourself if any of your serious marketing efforts rely on them:  Twitter, Skype, Pandora, Meebo, TripIt, Second Life, Zillow, Ask, Daily Motion, MySpace and NetVibes.

Free Services Can Make Your Life Difficult if You Have a Problem

Of course you could always use a free service that is backed by a big, solid company, right?   What about working with a service provided by Google or Yahoo?

Think about what our friend, artist Marsha Robinett wrote on her FineArtStudioOnline blog a few months ago, because she was inexplicably locked out of her Google Blogger blog:

My blog on Google's Blogger has been shut down as SPAM . . . I know it's hard to understand why, but they did . . . This process of unlocking my blog has already lasted four days and could take weeks to unlock it. The scary part is the longer it remains locked, the less chance it will ever be unlocked. It's sickening to be going through this right now...I feel as though I'm at war with an invisible enemy and the only way to say anything to Goggle Blogger is through their forums!

"The Extraordinary Pencil...blogspot" is NOT a "spam blog," it could just sit there inactive and slowly DIE. I've worked so many hours on this blog...if it dies, I may just die too. This is such an unfair way for Blogger to handle things. It seems they have no regard for the innocent. They've created a breach of trust!  (emphasis added)

Think about what Marsha wrote about being at "war" with an "invisible enemy", and contrast that with her experience with her website and blog at FineArtStudioOnline.  Since FineArtStudioOnline is a paid service, we are profitable and we will be here tomorrow.  Since Marsha is a FineArtStudioOnline customer, we have a vested interest in keeping her happy.  If Marsha needs assistance or help from us, she's not a "war" with the "invisible enemy."  Nope.  She just picks up the phone and we're there, ready to help.  (Full disclosure:  Marsha now works with FineArtStudioOnline, but did not at the time she had the issue with Blogger).

Here's another important point to consider when dealing with paid services:  Since users pay, there's no spam problem.  Spammers won't set up fake blogs a paid service, because they would have to PAY.  Likewise, paid services don't have to monetize through tacky advertising that annoys you and your customers.  In short, paid services usually don't become online ghettos.

Marsha did eventually get her Google blog unlocked and, in that particular case, things worked out.  We sincerely hope she has a backup of her blogger data somewhere since Google could decide to lock her out again in the future, or worse they could, conceivably (although we don't expect they would), kill Blogger completely.

Use Free Services for Non-Critical Activities, Pay for Critical Needs

We're not saying not to use free services at all, we use Twitter on a regular basis, we have a Facebook profile (but before you send us a friend request, remember that we basically don't use Facebook), we like Google Analytics, and heck, we even use Gmail (but we can switch back to our own mail service instantly if there is a problem and we don't use our gmail address as our public email address).  But we could easily live without Twitter, Facebook, Analytics and Gmail, if necessary.

Think about your core online needs:  a website, perhaps a blog, a reliable email account - now ask yourself what you would do if your website or blog was gone, or you could no longer access or use your current email provider.  For most artists, that would be a real problem.

So our advice is this:   Utilize paid services and companies you trust for your most important online needs and relegate the free services to things that you could, if absolutely necessary, live without.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS -
Remember, you get what you pay for.


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Related Posts:

Where do Most Artists Sell Art? - Empty Easel Poll Analyzed

What if Google Went Away?

Less is More

Why I've dropped Google Adsense

Create Your Own Community...and not on Facebook

Topics: art marketing | Clint Watson | Facebook 

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