Pay for it

There is no free lunch, right? It‘s quite clear that ‘freebies’ are usually there to lure us and hook us on to something we don’t really need. We’ve all experienced it, we all know how to stay away from it and we know it’s our choice to buy something or not.

The digital world is one where (some) rules from physical reality are discarded. One of those is the rule of money. Online, it feels, everything ought to be free. Videos, apps, e-mail clients — free, movies and music — should be free, no matter all that stuff about artists’ right and shit, there must be a place to get it for free. Now, where does that certainty come from? Why do we feel entitled to free content online? Why do we feel confident that it should not be paid for? What would happen if this attitude stretched to physical reality?

I have personally experienced the puzzlement of having to pay for something online to access it. There is that little feeling that ‘there must be a way to get this for free’. The reason for this mindset is simple — we, the new conscious adults, belong to a transitional age. We have come into a world full of physical goods: toys, VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs, mp3s etc — things we touch, which suddenly started transitioning to online, where we experience them in an abstract way. We are used to the instant touch of the physical good we paid for. In the beginning, things on the internet were created by curious people who were experimenting, they were hardly ever there to maintain someone’s business or living. They were there for fun. When I was a teen, we could just go online, pull that on our machine, enjoy it briefly before we dispose of it and hop onto the next experiment. ‘Real’ was what we could touch, everything else felt like a game. A free one.

No more.

Here we are with our iPhones. Look at the machine you’re reading this on. Every single piece of it is the product of many minds, minds with families, jobs, hobbies, passions. We’ve paid for these machines, you might think, it’s a fair game, right? Right. Now go to your home screen. Every single pixel on that screen is built by someone too. Every service running on that machine, maintaining the processes necessary for you exercising your life online is built by humans, by minds with ideas, passions and hard work. It’s hosted somewhere, people are running and fixing things every time you experience a two-second-long glitch, working to endlessly improve that service and your experience, to respond to your feedback, to ease your work process, to enhance your life. So every time you wonder disappointedly why that app is paid, ask yourself — why do you get paid?

I have heard many negative comments on the introduction of paid features in startup apps which were free when they launched. If there is a feature which costs something like your milk or that coffee you didn’t even bother finish, people moan, complain, offend, feel betrayed. Where are online businesses supposed to be sustained from? How is that daily mindless swiping session going to happen if it wasn’t for the bunch of genius people curled in front of their machines, excelling at their skills and perfecting the code which makes that magic on the screen happen? Those people are doing what they love most to make the service which you like even better. If you were in a café, you wouldn’t question paying for your drink, right? You wouldn’t moan, yell and offend the barista if they asked you £2.50 for the latte you ordered? More importantly: would you go in the shop and avoid to get the paid coffee and only look for free coffees? Is there even such a thing as free coffee? Silly questions, right. But I keep seeing people complaining about having to pay for a digital service. What if the service you give were not paid by default, how would that feel?

This is addressed to all the people who always question why do they have to pay for this and that when it’s just and app, and not really in their hands, not there to be touched or eaten. Here is a message — we, the humans, survive thanks to our minds, some learn things other can never grasp, but need. Value comes with need. If you need something, be prepared to pay for it. Someone knows you need it and has found a way to make it for you. Be happy about it, respect its value, it could have not been there were it not for the minds that made it. Don’t devalue creations you need simply because you cannot touch them. I bet I can’t touch your work either, so make sure you don’t moan next time you see an app for £3.99, please. Someone’s come up with that idea, another has given it a face, a third — a heart and a body, all of which give you that product you’ve always needed. So respect it and pay for it.