The Cost of Free

April 7, 2009

Not a day goes by that I don’t see a user saying something like “I need a macro that does this specific function, but it has to be free.” Or maybe they say “I need a tutorial teaching me how to do this, but it has to be free.” If you are reading this, you are probably using graphics software to produce something for customers. What if those customers came to you and said, “I need you to design me a shirt and it has to be free.” Or maybe they say “I need some signage for my business but it has to be free.” I’m guessing you would quickly show them the door.

When it comes to information and tools on the Internet, people expect them to be free. Why? It still takes someone or even a group of people to create whatever it is. Web hosting can get quite expensive for a large site.

I’m going to use the example of someone making free tutorials and explain why they aren’t really free to you. Yes, you can access the tutorials at no cost. This “free” tutorial site hopes to make money from advertising on the site and they have gone so far as to violate the rules of the advertising network providing the ads. One of the tutorials was a seventeen minute long video. In talking to an expert on the subject, they felt a more productive method could be done in only two minutes. So not only does it take you longer to learn, it teaches you a very inefficient method. If you value your time, this isn’t a recommended use of it. In the long run, is that tutorial really free to you? While you may not pay to watch the tutorial, you will pay over and over in the time you waste. We’ve all heard it before, you get what you pay for. Inefficient method equals inefficient use of time.

I hear complaints from some users that we charge for tutorials. The people creating these tutorials are working artists. They take time away from paying work to create the tutorial and we compensate them for their time. When we receive the content, the tutorial is prepared for publication. That takes my time. Then an editor works over the content. That costs money to pay the editor. If that tutorial saves you even ten minutes a day or it teaches you how to create a cool new effect, isn’t it worth something to you? The good news is that I also hear quite often from people who purchase the tutorials about how it was well worth the money. Guess what? Over 80% of the tutorials on our site are free. When authors create a premium tutorial, we charge a small amount for it. Typically the cost is between $5 and $10. If you want the authors to keep creating this high-quality content, I encourage you to support your own learning and support the creators by purchasing the tutorials that address your needs. If you find artwork or a macro that would help you, consider purchasing it and supporting the creators.

Yes, we have advertising on our site. No, it doesn’t come close to supporting the cost of everything we provide to users. Yes, we sell products from which we receive a commission. While those earnings are very much appreciated, they don’t pay all the bills either. We also offer training products and classes that have a cost to them. We make sure that the value delivered far exceeds the cost.

If you only support free content, don’t be surprised when the best content goes away. Also don’t be surprised when the producers of that free content start charging because they have to earn money to survive.

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Foster D. Coburn III is author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics conferences. His first Web site was built in 1995 and he has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013.

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