In Praise of the Freemium Model

Over the last few years I have come across a fair few articles and app reviews that talk about the ‘freemium trap’ – the idea that a user is lured in to using an app or a service because it is free, only to find out that the advertised features they sought are only available on a premium (paid for) account, for which they feel hostaged into purchasing.

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I’m not saying this hasn’t happened to me – I’ve stupidly fallen for this one myself on more than one occasion. Maybe I’m old and cynical, but if this does happen it is highly unlikely that I then go splashing my cash on a monthly subscription; rather, I cancel my account all together and go find myself an alternative application that does fulfill my needs.

You see, for me the trust is broken – I’m pretty clued up about searching for and finding the right application for my needs, so if I find myself in the above scenario it is more likely that they have misrepresented themselves (may I even go so far as to say: miss-advertised…?) than me making a mistake about features and functions.

Now, I know this sounds really arrogant put like that, but being a lower-end wage earner with a love of productivity geekery I have somewhat ‘champagne’ wants, but only a ‘lemonade’ budget. Hence I have spent the last six or seven years perfecting the fine art of getting the most I can (online) for as little as possible, or even better: nothing at all.

We all know the adage ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ and that the best applications around are often the ones that have required the largest investment of time and resources – so it is only fair that developers are paid a fair price for their work. Of course there is the in-app-advertising solution to this conundrum – but we all hate ads and pop-ups, not least the developers who have spent countless hours perfecting the aesthetics of their software, only to have if plastered with BOGOFF banners.

Here’s where I’m going with this. Yes, developers do deserve, and have every right to expect, to be paid for their work. Yes, we can’t all afford to pay out here, there and everywhere for each and every application we may wish to use. Yes, whilst having a free version with limited functionality can create a useful resource for those who needs are simple (although don’t get me started on applications that offer a free model that is essentially useless!), there will often be people (like me) who may have a severely limited budget, but because their technical needs outweigh their desire not to have to spend money they are happy enough to pay a fair price for the exact functions they want – but just need to be judicious about how much and what they spend it on.

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And so back to our old friend, freemium. If you have a particular technical requirement that cannot be readily met by a free download, then you are resigned to spending a few pounds a month to get what you need. And here we have it: if there were only two applications that could fulfill this requirement, one with no free model at all, and the other with a free model that doesn’t include the function you are after but a premium upgrade that will ultimately give you what you want – which are you going to go for? Not everyone’s answer to this will be the same, but in my eyes I don’t have the time or patience to sign up for a paid for service that I have not road tested in any way at all , when I can start using another for free until I decide whether it is for me (since all of the more complex applications are going to have a multitude of features, not just the one sought-after solution) and upgrade in my own time (or not) when I have proved that it meets my expectations.

And that’s my view on the subject : long live freemium!