The Perceived Value of Free

I’ve been wrestling with free vs. paid a lot these days. While I know free draws lots of attention and offers lots of opportunity for the kind of trust building that can turn into a paid relationship, it’s also suggest, to some, a lack of value and certainly a lack of a commitment on the part of the person accepting the free offers.

Let me ask you the simple question below as a starting point for this notion.

Image AGoK via Flickr CC

Join Our Content Community

First Name

Last Name

Your Email (this will be your username)

Password (at least 8 characters, 1 number, 1 upper and lowercase letter)

Already a member? Log In

  • James Pruitt

    personally, I like some free stuff, to build trust and get an idea of what I can learn. often if I am starting something new, I will find what I can for free, and the people who help me there, I will trust more when it comes time to invest in a product. 

  • Mark

    Hi John, I’d like to think that i’m not influenced by price, but I recently purchased a 99p app for my mobile which turned out to be complete junk and utterly useless. Had it of been free, I would have deleted it right away, but as I had paid a small amount for it, I’ve kept it on my phone even though I will never use it. So for me it looks like the answer is ‘yes’. Thanks, Mark. Ps. Love the podcast!

  • Tlmaurer

    I hear ya, John.  How much ‘free’ is enough?  Anyone with kids knows that they place more value on what they pay for themselves than what we parents fork over our hard earned cash for.  ‘Free’ is becoming a fine line in today’s Internet world.  People seem to take longer to make buying decisions after learning to expect all things to be free.  Are we going too far?

  • Norm

    As soon as I see “free” I assume that there is a hidden cost or that what is offered is junk. It makes me think that the entity offering is either dishonest or low quality. 
    I don’t remember the source but believe the saying- If it is free, it is worth the price.

    • NandoJourneyman

      I’m with Norm on the concern about hidden costs. Particularly true with services.

  • Alfred Poor

    There are many “free” things that I value highly: Google Docs, Evernote, many e-newsletters that I subscribe to. But I recognize that the transaction is not without cost; I am giving up my personal information or something else in return. I do think that I am more committed to a product or event if I pay even just a little for it. And from what I’ve seen at events where I am a speaker or the craft shows where I sell my pottery, even a small entry fee results in a more-committed group of participants.
    Alfred Poor
    The Center for Small Business

  • David Bopp

     If the product is great, I value it a lot for beeing free. Enough to finally pay for it (I think of Dropbox when I write this).
    Also, free makes me more tolerant towards flaws in the product (hey, the concert was free after all)
    But commitment… is that really connected to free versus paid? Maybe if you paid a lot – then you stick to your choice, even if it was a bad one.

  • Richard Linn [@Profits_Growth]

    A very good question. I do agree that in general we are more likely to value and use something we have paid for. I also see giving something of value at the start of a relationship to communicate an attitude of service. This often leads to reciprocity, which leads to a deeper bond of trust.

  • Jennifer @ YellowBirdBlogs

    I agree with the other commenters–you see “free” and you either assume a) crap or b) hidden catch (or c), both of the above). Requiring even a small payment for something gets the purchaser much more invested–so to speak–in the transaction and creates inherent value. 

  • archoncad

    I tried to give away a little information, in the hope that people would subscribe to my service and get a lot of information. The users that wanted the free, were not that willing to become subscribers. Some people even complained that the free information wasn’t enough!

    Now I give away the introduction to the article, and only subscribers can see the full information. 

  • Andrew Rondeau

    I little while ago I promoted my new product at $2.99 (I
    know it’s not free but there is a point to my comment!) and I hardly sold any

    I put the price up to $9.99 and literally sold 100x more.

    People often think if it’s free (or cheap) it’s not worth getting or there is a

    It’s similar to those adverts that car garages say…for instance, “Free
    oil change”. I think “OK…but what problems will you ‘find’ while
    changing the oil and charge me for”.


  • AJ Perisho

    I agree with what James said below.
    Free is a nice first step.
    I always think if the free stuff is good, the paid stuff must be really good.

  • Justin Amendola

    This is an excellent question, John. A lot comes down to basic human behavioral economics. People will often “frame” a decision based on a set of predetermined experiences. Most of us have had negative experiences with low-value free content or apps.

    As a result, we may be more inclined to have a subconscious expectation that other free offerings are low value. A lot comes down to the product category and target audience. As you’ve said many times, a successful business understands a lot about both. Put that understanding to work and chance are higher that you’ll find a good answer.

  • Michael Montague

    I agree that free is lazy commitment and poor qualifier of prospects, but FREE is better than DISCOUNTED any day. If you discount your product at all you run the risk of setting that as your perceived value. Look at pizza and $5 dollar foot-longs to learn this lesson. Do you think they will ever get to charge retail or raise their prices anytime soon?

    Compare that to Chipotle burritos. They are never on sale, although they have done free promotions, and no one ever thinks about paying less than retail.

  • Suki

    Software companies give away free trials. Lawyers offer offer a free half hour consultation, etc, etc. It allow people to try something without a full committment and it works.