The Internet offers a lot of great free tools and services, and
we’ve quickly become used to finding shoe-string solutions for storing
files, collaborating on projects, communicating with others, sharing
media across platforms, or bringing new interactivity to our websites.
As the recession deepens, however, business models are changing — and
nonprofits’ low-budget online toolboxes are changing, too.
‘Free’ always has a cost attached.
Generally, the free web tools and services we enjoy are (1)
ad-supported, or (2) underwritten by paid “premium” subscriptions, or
(3) offered without charge in order to draw attention to the company’s
other products, to which a price tag is attached.
But the growth of online advertising looks like it will be slowing down “significantly,” according to Forrester Research’s revised predictions
for the next 5 years. And as everyone looks for ways to trim our
budget, the volume of paid subscriptions may not bring in the expected
amounts of money needed for developers to support a free version of
Meanwhile, free online tools and services do have on-going costs for
the providers in terms of webspace and bandwidth, maintenance, features
development, and customer support — and realistically, there’s no
obligation for developers to keep on giving away their work
Business models are changing:
Coming into 2009, CrazyEgg quietly dropped the free version of its visual website analytics service, and Onlywire bookmarking service relaunched with a “pay or promote” model. Last month, Sprout Builder
gave short notice that the free version of its “multimedia authoring
solution” will be discontinued at the end of February. And just a few
days ago, all-in-one online storage service Hordit announced that it, too, is moving to a paid-subscription model:
We’re all being affected in one way or another by the
economic recession playing out worldwide. We at Hordit are not
immune. Our intention from the start was to provide a base service for
free supported by a subscription service. Unfortunately, funding
dynamics are changing and we have been forced to alter our plans.
Even Google is retrenching for tough times,
merging some of its closely related applications and dropping less
profitable projects. Active development of Google Notebook has been
halted, for example, as have new uploads to Google Video in a shift of
focus to “building a more comprehensive video search engine.”
What if your favorite ‘Freebie’ disappears?
One commenter at ReadWriteWeb (Sprout Builder Kills Its Free Publishing Service),
who was not aware of Sprout’s planned change in business model, built a
promotional campaign around its flash-based widgets. With no way to
download the widgets she’d created under the old free plan — if there
had been, she could have self-hosted them on her own webspace or at a
free file-sharing site — the user is left with two choices: Upgrade to
the paid service, or see the campaign widgets disappear.
For almost any free tool or service, the odds are quite good that
you’ll soon be able to find an alternative if a favorite disappears —
or if it suddenly has a price attached that moves it beyond reach of
your budget. That’s the beauty of open competition, and a lot of very
bright minds at work on the Web.
But a smooth transition won’t always be easy or painless.
Question: If a sudden price change puts a once-free service beyond your
organization’s budget… what happens to any campaigns you’ve built that
depend on that service?