Is “free” the “future of business” as Chris Anderson said, or simply its curse?
Here’s my conjecture: users disrespect free, and this fuels demand for regulation.
Here’s the explainer: users of free tend to take supply as something due to them. Lawyers would say that users behave as if they owned a “natural” god-given right to supply. Economists would write that users view supply as a putative “public good”. The upshot of this is that any reduction in quality is seen as theft. And that user intolerance is infinite: no bad deed in supply goes unpunished. Over its life, a free business is thus doomed to develop a bad rap with users. Because officials go with the flow, free business models end up in the cross-hair of regulation.
This could potentially explain all the regulatory issues faced by Google and Facebook (or RyanAir in the non tech world). And the lesser regulatory exposure – with limited exceptions – faced by Apple, in spite of several scandals over planned obsolescence.
PS: one could make the additional point that free carries the illusion that production involves little cost, effort or inventiveness.