If it’s free, it’s for me.
That’s the motto of the cheapest/most frugal person you will ever meet: me. I hang my clothes to dry so I can save $1.50 on laundry. What is on my grocery list depends on what’s on sale that week. Spending $1.11 on a McCafe coffee so I can make it through class? The coffee is surprisingly delicious, but steaming with a sense of guilt for paying for something I don’t really need.
Whether you can relate to this or you think it is ridiculous to agonize over such trivial details, I think we can all agree on one thing: Free stuff is cool.
And my point is this: In the age of new media, we have come to expect free things. Not just penny-pinchers like me. All of us.
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. I use social media for work, for school, for friends. It has become an essential part of the PR and journalism professions. The White House has an Instagram, the pope has Twitter, my neighbor’s golden retriever has a Facebook account. The world revolves around our social media tools. But the thought of paying for it? I shudder to think. (That was both sarcastic and yet really not sarcastic.)
We want, and more to the point, we expect things to be free. It’s not just social media, either, and journalism is a prime example. Why pay for a newspaper when CNN, BBC, and Fox have the same article online? Nevermind how much work went into that 900-word story: It should be free.
I include myself in this phenomenon, by the way. I just subscribed the the digital version of the New York Times this week, and I still find myself wondering if it was worth the money. As if $4 a week for the best reporting in the world is a rip-off, comparable to a cab driver who takes the long way ‘round to cheat a tourist.
On the rare occasion that something isn’t free in this age of new media, then it is incredibly cheap—think Hulu and Netflix—and we expect it to stay that way.
News broke earlier this week that Amazon is thinking about raising the price of its Amazon Prime membership to—gasp—$99 or even $119 a year (it is currently $79/year). According to one poll, 70 percent of subscribers don’t think free two-day shipping, thousands of free movies and TV shows streaming instantly, and free books through Kindle would be worth it at a higher price. Netflix had a similar customer response (outraged) when it announced it was raising its prices. (Netflix took that statement back pretty quickly.)
We’ll dish out five dollars for a cappuccino, and we’ll pay three bucks more than that to binge watch all three seasons of The Walking Dead on Netflix—but not a dollar more. As consumers of new media, we expect certain things. If it’s free, it’s for me, and if it’s not free, it better be dirt cheap and work flawlessly.