Use free or die poor. Part 2.

Part 1 here.

               It’s a common problem I’ve seen around ever since internet took off. People assume the customer has to be right all the time. It’s bullshit and you know it, though that’s what everybody’s being taught when they train in marketing. You don’t make something for one person, not unless you’re charging him like he’s Donald Trump. You make something for many people to use, as such polling your customers can be quite bad for your business. For instance, a company that serves 3 thousand individuals could poll them about a specific change and get 100 people saying yes and 400 saying no. Do you think that’s relevant? I’d say it isn’t. Not unless the other 2.5 thousand people actually consider that change to be irrelevant. Some people are vocal, some aren’t, some postpone the decision to contribute in that survey, some had a bad day and all they want is a shower and sleep, some have no idea what they want and some want to appear like they’re not “average” – they’re different people with different goals, experiences and beliefs. You won’t always get the correct answer from them. Mistaking 500 people that answered your survey for the entirety of your customers is always a bad choice.

               Same thing happens with software, especially if it’s free. If it’s free, your users don’t have an attachment to it. Your customers have power over you because if they stop using it, your product dies. They can say “change this”, “make it do that”, because they can. Not everybody who uses your product will give you a feedback – they might love it by default, as is, no change needed. But a few will feel entitled to more, they’ll demand more. Apeasing them might anger the others, hell, no might about it, will anger the others. Or not. How can you know, if only those asking for a change actually bothered to give you their opinion? Well… That’s the point where things get a bit tricky.

               If you think people would only use your product because it’s free, your business plan is dead and your product is not what it could be. I could be using AVG or another free antivirus (I have, for years) but chose to pay Kaspersky. I could be using Libra Office but chose to pay Microsoft. Hell, I could be using Linux (I have, for years, in the 90s) but chose to buy Windows. It’s a matter of choice. I understand those that do use free products, I really do, if it fits their needs. But I don’t understand why we assume free things cost nothing to make. I really don’t understand why people don’t question the market share of free products. If it would do the same thing as the competing paid product, why isn’t the paid product dead? The truth is, even if it hurts our ego, the paid product does more. Usually, a hell of a lot more. Consumers don’t want to look at charts and reports – they want to use it because they have to use it. Now think – when is a feature cost effective if your product is free? Yeah.

               If something is free, the object of the sale is you. Either to make you familiar with the company so that you buy something else or to sell you and your information to some other company. Do you know how the Mozilla Corporation makes money? Mozilla makes free tools like Firefox, Thunderbird and others, their products are free – but makes money from Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. What did I tell you about free products? You’re the one that’s sold to the highest bidder. They use open source code, they rely on transparent software development, but they still sell you. And through Google and those search engines they have to render websites who use ads, even those annoying ones we all come to hate. To not render websites correctly would be a threat to their business model. No wonder they object to ad blocking software, even if they keep that opinion under wraps. Indirectly, their whole business model relies on websites agreeing to be rendered by Firefox. Interesting, isn’t it?

               The only way to make money long term in the software business is to create something that people need, even if it’s free for the most commonly used features – and charge for the extras. Most people will find the free features enough but those that need more, will pay – I guarantee it. Wait, need might not be the correct word here, because need is actually quite subjective. I think a better way to describe it would be: people will pay for something if they believe not having it could hurt their pockets. Something quite advanced could be free – if it’s cosmetic or a standard feature of the competition, but something quite simple could prove very profitable. But nobody, nobody in their right mind I mean, would use a free antivirus if their files are more valuable than the cost of a premium, award winning security suite and they know the security of their files is better than what the free antivirus can provide. Why do you think there isn’t a single free security suite in the top 10? Because those who understand the risks, can’t take chances of a subpar firewall even if the antivirus is top notch. Or viceversa. Research and development has to have reliable funding.

               I don’t care if people will laugh at me for using Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office. If they laugh, it’s because they’re idiots who can’t see farther than their own nose. What I do is quite different from what they do, what I expect in terms of features and usability is quite different from what they expect. I won’t laugh at them – I ignore them. Ignorance is not a disability, but it will prove a very bad strategy on the long term.

               There are many ways to make a living, either as content creator or software maker, or whatever else we can call somebody who makes a product. It could be free, it could cost money, it could work both ways – bulk advertisers is no longer a reliable way to help them sell their products. Their product is. Focus on it, focus on what it can do for consumers and find a way to make your ads relevant to our needs instead of crying over the use of software that is actually relevant to our needs. There are more than 2 sides to this debate, it’s not consumers versus creators, who even told you that? It’s more likely an issue between consumers, advertisers and creators, let’s get our facts straight. The creative have been manipulated into pressuring their customers to accept whatever the advertisers want, all in the name of bigger sales – with every side worried by declining sales and increased competition. Now, why is nobody challenging the established theory? Why is nobody asking if sales are declining not because of increased competition or not enough advertising but because the marketing is targeting the wrong people to begin with? I mean, let’s take a look at the real winner here – only one of those 3 sides wins even in the event of zero sales and it ain’t the customer. Needs still have to be fulfilled, products still get created to target them, yet… I think we’re not looking where we should be looking.

Stop fighting for the wrong side, please.

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