The Allure Of Free

There’s a response that is, I believe, inherent to human nature, transcending boundaries – almost unanimous. And it is the response to something that is free.

If I tell you I’m willing to give you something for free, what would be the first thing that comes to your head? Yes, there it is… “What’s the catch?” And what do you do? You don’t take the thing.

My cousin was telling me earlier today about her dilemma in Australia. She works at a leading TV station and is often given tickets to movie premieres. We’re talking about the star-studded events, involving red carpets and bling, not the excitement we feel when we watch the first screening of a movie on its release day. And more often than not, she can’t go to those premieres so she usually asks around if someone wants those tickets, only discovering that giving this tickets away for nothing is harder than her actual job.

And it happened to me when I was at AUB outdoors. There was some guy offering free hugs and the moment I saw him, the second idea the crossed my mind (the first one being how weird it was) was that there was definitely a catch somehow in those hugs.

But why do we have such a response to free stuff? Why is it that most people would take the premiere tickets from my cousin if she had asked for an insignificant amount of money but refrain from doing so if she was handing them for nothing in return?

Our mentality is apparently wired to go away from things that are too good to be true. Even for things that are not totally free. If you find a bargain online, you are as skeptical.
But in the world of today, do not underestimate the power of “free.” I am most definitely not an economy expert but with most things getting cheaper and cheaper because of competition, offering things for free has become a way for some companies to topple others. Offering things for free is also a way for those companies to introduce services.

When I started buying stuff off amazon, I was offered a free trial of “amazon prime” in their attempt to hook me on speedier deliveries. And if I had been living in the US, I would have totally gone for it. Amazon redid a similar thing with Lady Gaga’s latest album: they sold the mp3 version for $0.99 along with a free trial of their newly introduced “cloud” service, as a way to get ahead of Apple before they introduce their own version of cloud services, probably later this year.

According to Chris Anderson, “free” is the future of prices. He wrote his book Free: The Future of a Radical Price on a $250 netbook, running a free version of Linux, free Google Docs, which offer him free backup and on-the-go access and then he offered the work for free on iTunes. He argues that billion dollar industries are being formed today around the price of “zero dollars and zero cents.” And if you think about it, isn’t Google one of the leading companies in the world today and it gives almost everything for free? So don’t freak out when you’re offered something for free. Odds are, someone, somewhere, is making money off of it somehow – with no catch to you.