Free things we take for granted

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnik is on fire with his economics of non-scarce goods riff, using not-scarce to sell scarce goods. Here is a list of things that companies leverage by giving them away for free that are not scarce so they can sell scarce goods;

1. Free entrance into a store, and no fee to look at the goods. You might just buy something while you are there.

2. Free over-the-air TV programming so that you can see commercials of products or services you might buy. One broadcasting tower per station can be picked up by an infinite number of TVs.

3. Free over-the-air FM radio so that you can hear commercials of products or services you might buy and music of a performer you might become a fan of and buy a recording on a plastic disc or attend a concert or purchase related merchandise.

4. Book authors blog about the topic of their book to help sell the scarce, packaged, convenient media format: the book.

5. Newspaper’s online presence to help sell newspapers? How about if the newspaper business got into selling its content as historical references (NYT recently did this)? Or journalism that is heavy on insight and opinion? Sure, everyone has an opinion but few have an opinion that a lot of people care about. This is a scarce resource.

6. Open source software is given away for free since it is not a scares resource, but then support and customization, the scarce resource of people’s time, is sold at a premium.

7. Cable and satellite channels (ok, we pay for that, and have to watch commercials, but) such as Discovery Channel, History Channel, and PBS produce programming for viewing on TV but then also sell DVDs. Those suck in the “selling plastic discs” mindset might say that no one would by the DVDs when they can watch it on TV for free. But they are paying for the convenience factor of the DVD: on physical media, can be played in any DVD player, and be played when the owner wants to play it, and one might take pride in displaying it on his or her shelf (wow, we took all of this for granted 10 years ago). What makes this interesting is that the ephemeral nature a broadcast TV special makes it scarce, but abundant in the number of viewers it can reach. The TV special on physical media is scarce. However, if the show were viewable for free on demand (such as internet video), it would not be as scarce or ephemeral, but it could still help to sell scarce, physical media when there is higher value than was is listed above, along with the physical media.

8. Free use of Google, and in exchanged I see a paid ad from an advertiser, and I am also getting a demonstration of Google’s AdSense software, an artificially scarce good that they can charge me for because of its high value: it’s contextual.

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