Are We Entitled to Free?

When did people start thinking that they should be able to get everything for free? We used to EXPECT to pay for music, books & training. When did that change?

Jim Kukral demonstrated the topic of his upcoming book “Attention, This Book Will Make You Money” with this clever blog post “Attention, My Book is Free Today “.  Some of us saw the witty video post as a great way to emphasize just what his soon to be released book was all about.  But a large number of people were angered by the post.  They bemoaned the fact that Mr. Kukral didn’t actually give anything away for free.

I disagree on two points.  He found a way to show us exactly what we would be learning in his book and he taught us one of those lessons…free. Or at least for just the cost of a small snippet of our time.

He also managed to uncover the ugly truth that those of us involved in selling information are so painfully aware of.  A lot of people that could benefit from what we sell aren’t willing to pay for it.  Somewhere along the way they’ve developed an expectation that information should be given away.  They’ve cultivated the mindset and preached it to others; gaining a following of recruits that are hooked on the ‘info for free’ Kool-Aid.

I’ve had individuals review my “VA Survival Guide” , giving it high marks for the information shared, agreeing that it goes beyond what many virtual assistant guides include and then lower its value, not because of the content but because of the price.  Now, I’m convinced of the value in my information product.  I’ve paid three and four times as much for classes and seminars that didn’t share as much useful information.  Heck, I’ve paid as much or more for fiction and how to books.

But I suddenly found myself questioning my decision to sell my knowledge and experience.  I agonized for awhile, did some soul-searching and hashed it over with others.

Over the course of the past 3 months I’ve come to realize that it’s not me…it’s you.  Or rather it’s those of you who have jumped on the “I’m entitled to free” bandwagon.

I understand that many of us have offered a lot of information for free and I’m as guilty as the next guy.  I own my role in developing an entire demographic that believe they shouldn’t have to pay for any information when they can probably find it for free on the Internet.  And since I own some responsibility for cultivating that mindset, I feel it’s important for me to come out and share some truths that the ‘free’ flag wavers might not be disclosing or even aware of.

1. Free is never free.  It always costs you something.  It may be your valuable time, but shockingly it may be your reputation if you take free advice that either isn’t sound or incorrect in some way, shape or form.

2. Free can cost you a lot more than money.  How long is it going to take you to find your free information? Time is money, and how many of these so-called free information products are you going to spend time on, only to find there is very little value in what is being shared?  How many times is the information being shared unsound, and will you even know it until you somehow lose credibility or clients because of it?

I strongly believe it’s time that we realized that we had it right before, when our expectations were that we would be expected to pay for things.

It’s time we reminded ourselves and each other that things of value come with a price.

Do you agree or disagree? I’m interested in both sides of the coin, so let me know how you feel about free in the comments section below.


Tina Marie Hilton provides online technology services to forward thinking businesses. She writes on her Tips from T.Marie business blog to share insight and information with other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It also makes her feel like that certificate in creative writing isn't going to waste completely.


  1. Laurie on June 14, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    This is a great post Tina! I enjoy free information as much as the next person, but I’ve lately wondered where it all ends. I think if you feel your product is worth a price then you have to set the bar and leave it in place. Take care!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jim Kukral and Jim Kukral, Darlene Victoria. Darlene Victoria said: Thought provoking blog post by @TMarieHilton Are We Entitled to Free? […]

  3. Jim Kukral on June 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Great points. And thanks for picking up my link.

    My story aside, here are my thoughts on free. Free is great. It's the expectation of things being free that stinks, as you explain so well.

    I sell stuff, and I give stuff away free. Both work great to reach my goals, whatever they may be. The key is, is your “free” meeting your goals, or are you just going free without a plan?

  4. T.Marie Hilton on June 14, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on free. I'd be lying if I didn't say I enjoy free as much as the next person, but I think I miss the time when free was an exciting bonus (like the prize in the crackerjack box).
    In the past year or so, I've not only been disillusioned by those that expect everything for free, but also those that actually have complained about what they have received…for free.
    That doesn't mean I don't still provide useful information for free, because as you said, it depends on what you're goals are. I still want to provide people with useful information at no cost, but I also would like them to recognize that some of the knowledge that I would like to share with them has value.

  5. Shawn Collins on June 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I've found that truly free brings out the rage in some folks.

    I used to sell an annual stat report called AffStat for $129 per copy. Two years ago, I decided to make it free, so I could get much wider distribution, since that was more valuable currency to me than cash.

    Anyhow, I put the report up on, and they allow full viewing without a login, but require an account (free and takes a couple seconds) if you want to download a document.

    There were a number of people who were beside themselves at the prospect of creating a free account on Scribd to download a report of new, relevant data to them.

  6. T.Marie Hilton on June 14, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Thanks for adding your thoughts Shawn! And your experience. I've had people complain about everything from the length of a free report to the fact that the free item wasn't in-depth enough, so I'm not surprised by the fact that creating an account somewhere would stir some people up.
    Again, thanks for dropping by and sharing.

  7. owengreaves on June 14, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Hi There, In the future much of what is available today will indeed be free, why? It can be copied. Currently the Internet is a giant copy machine, everything is ubiquitous and easy to get for the most part. We will however pay for what is scarce, but you the producer won't decide it's value, it will be the people formerly known as consumers. If it's important, good information or product, quality content, then maybe people will buy it, you won't be able to force people to buy in the next 5 years or so. The YES, NO & MAYBE buying process will be adopted when the other 3 Billion people arrive online, and thats happening as we speak.

    The old business model of putting things behind walls will not generate new money, it will merely enforce PFE, Proudly Found Elsewhere. We need to find a balance between what content should be free, and what should be paid for.

    Jim is right, is the free helping you meet your goals, if your focus is money, and only money, you will lose in the big picture. But if you give yourself away, your content, and are found helpful, the money will follow the free content.

    Just my thinking out loud : )

  8. T.Marie Hilton on June 14, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks Laurie,
    I agree that regardless of this wave of entitlement to free that we're dealing with, there are always people out there that are going to recognize value when they see it and be willing to pay. I think my frustration comes from the number of virtual assistants that contact me looking for help in starting out or getting new clients that are unwilling to invest in items (not just my items btw) that would ultimately help them.
    Always great to see you stopping by!

  9. T.Marie Hilton on June 14, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Interesting points Owen, and definitely not something I had considered, so you certainly got me thinking. 🙂 (I love it when my readers give me pause for thought!)
    Of course as someone who loves to teach and help others, I would like to think it is worth something, and helpful to boot.

    Great to see you stopping by!

  10. owengreaves on June 14, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    There's lots more where that came from, I'm a futurist at heart, I see things that will keep you thinking for a long while. I saw the link to this article on twitter, it grabbed my attention (the new currency) and I had to read it.

    Keep up the good work.

  11. Danny Brown on June 14, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    I think most of the “disagreement” was with how his friend Chris Brogan positioned it. He'd tweeted about it being free; his blog post promoting it again promoted it as free. Chris has leveraged his community to put him in a position of trust, and maybe a few folks thought he'd misled them?

    From the comments over on Chris's post, I don't think it was so much disappointment at “not getting something for nothing”, more that it had been built up to be something it wasn't. That, and the fact the video wasn't exactly earth-shattering – it didn't really sell the book to you.

    But hey, we all have different opinions – and that's the beauty of “free” (thinking) 😉

  12. T.Marie Hilton on June 15, 2010 at 12:58 am

    I always love it when you drop by Danny! And I wasn't aware of the promotion aspect at all, I had simply seen the post and the comments made there.

    And different opinions and 'free' thinking is what makes life so much more interesting! How boring would it be if we all agreed all the time?! 😀

  13. Daniel M. Clark on June 15, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I don't think that the expectation of free is a recent phenomenon. In fact, I think we can trace it back to the earliest days of Usenet and the early days of what would become the world wide web. The internet was at first an educational tool, and all one needed was access – students often got access for free. Usenet was always free, and early websites were all free. It was only after the web went commercial that this problem started… all of a sudden, some people wanted to charge for information or site access. A lot of people expect free because when it comes to the internet, that's quite literally always been the way of it.

    I'm not saying it's right or fair, but that's my observation. If monetization and site access charges had been the norm from the beginning, I don't think we'd be having this discussion.

  14. T.Marie Hilton on June 15, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Hi Daniel, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts in the conversation.
    You make some valid points, and for long time Internet users I think that would apply. But does that same train of thought apply to the millions of users that are new to the online world?

  15. Daniel M. Clark on June 15, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I think it does apply to newer users. I believe there to be two factors that contribute to it – first, popular major sites are still free (think Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Pandora), and second, even before someone opens their first web browser, they're still aware that “everything” online is free. Even those that haven't been online yet know what Google is, and they likely know that it's free. They hear people on TV or on the radio say things like “users of the free social media service Facebook…” – and those are adults. For kids who have been online since age 3 (like my daughter, now 4) they learn early that everything is free because the sites they're allowed to visit (PBSKids, NickJr) are free.

    I'm on board with the idea of charging for content the same way that I'm on board with charging for a newspaper or a magazine. I don't think everything should be free because the content producers need to make a living. To me, the question is, is it too late to stop the “everything online is free” mentality? It's hard to do when everything* is, in fact, free.

    (*not /everything/ but you get my meaning).

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