Why Paying For It Is a Good Thing

By Deane Barker on July 13, 2007

Pay To Play: Fair Price for Good Community: Josh Clark nails another good post today as he discusses a new “communal bike rental” program in Paris.

For 29 euros a year, you can “check out” a bike for 30 minutes whenever you need one. He discusses why the city of Paris specifically decided not to make the program free:

“You get what you pay for” has a corollary: “People behave according to how they pay.” By spending a little coin, a psychological shift happens. I become an owner. I expect that I’ll have access to bikes in good, unvandalized condition, and I expect that others will return bikes to their stations when they’re done. Because of those expectations, I’ll be that much more careful with how I treat the bikes myself.

So, so true. I’ve written about this before in a post entitled “Do we put more intellectual value on information we pay for?” I said this:

Do you put more value on information you pay for? Do you pay more attention to something you paid, say $5 for, than something you read for free on the Net?

[eBook PDFs on Amazon] probably have no more information in them than a well-written article on some development Web site. But are you going to pay more attention to them because you paid money? It strikes me that I would. If I paid $7 for an article about .Net datagrids, I’d print it out, and find some quiet time to read it and try the examples. Is it just me?

Another example of this —

I pay for LinkedIn, the business networking system. They have a new “Answers” section, and — as you would expect — it gets some spammish “questions” from time to time. People looking for jobs, people trying to recruit, people looking for outsourcing, etc.

I’m really uptight about flagging all those types of questions in the system. I get a little offended when someone craps up my nice, clean system that I pay for. I’m an owner, not a freeloader, and I have a vested interest in keeping LinkedIn in as good a condition as possible. I’m paying for it, so I have a tendency to pick up after other people to make sure my investment stays as nice as possible.

I’ve often thought about creating a Gadgetopia forum or community. If I did, I think I would charge a nominal fee for it — maybe $25 a year. Not because I could make a lot of money at that rate, but just because I think the participants that did pay would put more value on the information and invest more time in the community.

For years, MetaFilter charged new members $5. A small sum, sure, but enough that you weed out a huge group of people who just rack up free accounts for anything. I know that the $5 dissuaded me from joining, if only because I would have had to go track down my wallet, fish out my credit card, etc.

Free is, well, free. There’s no barrier to entry. And sometimes small barriers to entry can be good things.

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Comments

  1. I think you’re in the minority (I’m there too.) We went free with Feed Rinse based on the majority reaction, which is I don’t want to pay. Anything. Another minority reaction is $x/mo isn’t worth getting out my credit card and filling out a payment form. I’ve written about it before too. I’m baffled. We have enterprise apps that get the exact opposite reaction.

  2. I definitely agree with Aaron that fees won’t make more people want to buy a product. Quite the contrary, free will almost always drive dramatically higher adoption. To be sure, more people would use the Paris bike-sharing program if it were free. My point is only that a modest fee often improves the behavior and investment of the community. Just one consideration of many in the mind-bending up-is-down/black-is-white world of pricing.

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