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Freebies too good to be true?
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    As I sit, listen to and read statements from today's politicians, one thing is absolutely certain: these guys and gals like to promise American's loads and loads of free stuff.
    The prescription drug card, guaranteed Social Security, job training and government cheese - all programs promised to us by candidates.  What's amazing is that they say we can get these amazing products for little or no cost to us.
    Why would I want these things for free? Allow me to illustrate my point using Internet freebies.
    During my time, I have seen many up and coming (or at least they though they were) Internet companies offering free or nearly free services, software and products.
    A perfect example is NetZero.  When NetZero first entered the national race for dial-up customers, they decided to market their service as a free service supported by product advertisements placed on the users screen.  Supposedly, this was a new revolution.
    I'm sure you've seen their recent TV ads, now offering their service for a low price of $9.99 per month.  If the free-Internet service was so great why did the company switch to charging for their service?  If you said, 'cause they weren't making any money, you'd be right. Their net (profit) was zero. But, not why you think.
    Actually, they made decent money from ad sales. However, they simply didn't sign up enough users to support their original business proposition.  It wasn't the cost to the user nor was it the on-screen advertising. It was that their free product didn't hold a candle to the other online providers - AOL, Earthlink etc.  Their product simply wasn't any good.  And, since they weren't charging us for it, they didn't have the capital to improve the functionality of the service.
    They got creamed. Now they charge.
    Changing gears, there is a marketing philosophy called perceived value. Briefly explained, it means that the value of a product or service isn't the "value" that marketing or sales puts on it.  It's the value the customer sees in the product, completely separate from the price.  In other words, the customer can see value in a product (or not) regardless of the price attached to it.  
    Now, does that mean the customer will pay the price if he's sees the value?  Not necessarily.  Both price and value have to meet in the middle in order to make a sale.
    Loosely put, not everybody wants free stuff - they want a good value for their money. A bang for their buck, if you will.
    There is one thing for certain:  a free product has a low perceived value.
    There are still many free items on the web - games, programs, coupons, trips, news services and products. I have sampled quite a few. Most of the time the results were disappointing, if not disastrous, due to no tech support, lack of updates or shoddy programming.
    So these free programs, which often times require hours of toying to make them work properly, are almost always a waste of time and therefore money - not to mention the hair loss - even though they were initially free.
    But you already knew that, dear savvy reader.  You've been on the Internet and you've tried some of the free stuff and were disappointed.  So then Phil, why are you telling us information we already know?
    Because though we see the folly of free online products, we can't see the corollary in government programs - promised by either side of the political fence.
    In other words, government programs that are advertised to be "free" or "no cost" or "with no money out of your pocket" suffer the same lack of quality and support that plagues most free online products and services.  Most of these "no cost" programs will be boondoggles for the government - eating resources without generating any new resources of their own.
    I don't even have to list them - you know what they are.
    So, the next time you listen to a politician, at any level, try and sell you on the idea that a government program can be run for free, try this:  Don't think about the fact that the money to pay for this program has to come from somewhere (your pocket).  Don't think about the fact that we are spitting on the Constitution by allowing the government offer such services in lieu of the private sector.  Don't think about the fact that for the past 30 years, government has enlarged massively, primarily by increasing spending, often 10 times the inflation rate.  Don't think of any of those things.
    Just remember just how unbelievably bad the free Internet service was.  (In case you didn't use one, they were ALL exceptionally bad.)  
    Now, are you sure you want those free pills to go along with that free surgery?

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