there’s plenty of other information out there that has chosen to run in the opposite direction from Free

Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out in The New Yorker something that a lot of people have chosen to ignore: storage cost is not the only cost and even if it was, the numbers needed to make some business run on top of free (or gratis) are so high that they end up meaning millions.

Free is not the Holy Grail of the Internet. To have a sustainable ecosystem we need to have sources of revenue that do not involve having half the planet using our service. Smaller companies tailoring a product to a smaller audience must charge to sustain their business... and that is good!

Free, for most of the companies, is nothing more than an appetizer to their products and services, it is a marketing tool. Only a few products or services can survive with a viable free based model, where the source of revenue does not come directly from the users.

The flip side of the gratis market is the products and services provided by volunteers. I don't want an economy where all services are provided by unpaid volunteers: this would make my life worst. Having volunteers working to promote their ideas, services and products is great, but they also need to feed, lodge and enjoy life themselves, and the only way for them to have this is by having an income. It would be an even more unreliable world where I would get much less service and in worst conditions. I'm a Linux user, I know what I'm talking about.

Due to the conditions of sale of Android Phones in Belgium, I have just suffered a painful real life example of what it would be to live in a free only world: the paid applications market is not available in Belgium. I've had to hack/crack/flash/root my phone in order to be able to install an application that allows me access to paying Android apps (MarketEnabler.) A lot of the free apps are great, but when I need a professional application (like a tool to access Basecamp, manage multiple Google Analytics accounts, or work with multiple profiles in Twitter) the only choice in a <i>gratis</i> market is to wait for a possible application that nobody knows when it is going to come out, who is going to make it or if it will be updated. Living in a free only market sucks. That's why I've decided to void my warranty and changed the software in my phone: I wanted the full experience, not just a crippled experience.

In fact if you want to live in a free/gratis economy (or almost) you can already do so and get the full benefits: become a homeless beggar. Sounds enticing? So does a full gratis internet economy.