The Future: Your most popular services will be free
Evangelical religions have known this for thousands of years. Google has known it for some time. And Ryanair certainly understands the notion.
Let’s look at religion. Essentially a handful of members subsidise the benefits enjoyed by the majority of members. The people who attend church and make a contribution to the collection plate are in effect subsidising the missionary work undertaken in less wealthy parts of the world. The latter enjoy all the perks of religion such as an ‘off the shelf’ belief system, schooling and perhaps some medical support.
Google makes a myriad of services available to the majority of us for free. These services are largely subsidised by a minority of pay per click advertisers. In a similar vein, a few people on a typical Ryaniar flight are subsidising the fares of all the other passengers.
This works best where the two communities within your market are not actually in competition with each other (unlike Ryanair) but when the payers are happily paying for the beneficiaries to receive free service (religion and Google).
This new model is likely to be the quickest way to spread your brand. If you want to be a global player it is too dangerous to limit your product/service exposure to a handful of payers. I suspect that this same logic is applied to markets where pirating is rife. It is important for companies like Microsoft to ensure that, where there is no better economic option, it is their products that are pirated and not those of rivals.
So the question for today’s business leaders is what value are they going to give away for free?
And the question for the rest of us, is Google the new religion?