I am done with “free”. I have come to the realization that most people who want something for free will never, ever think of paying you, no matter how valuable they find your service. I found this cold hard fact out over this Christmas holiday with my free Letter From Santa site. The site uses a freemium model allowing people to create personalized printable santa letters for their children for free. In addition to the free version, I also offered a paid version that includes a higher resolution letter, a personalized envelope and door hanger for a nominal cost.
Traffic was substantial this Christmas season, with over 120,000 unique visitors and nearly 1,000,000 page views. The site was used to create over 50,000 free santa letters. It’s cool to know a site I built was used to bring joy to kids all around the world.
Free customers are higher maintenance than paying customers. I think it’s because they aren’t paying, they show little or no attention to directions. I focused on making the UI of the site drop dead simple and easy to use. I created a pretty thorough FAQ to answer 99.9% of the questions people might have. I even linked to the FAQ in the email response they got with their download links to the letter they created. I still had hundreds of free customers ask for help with simple questions that were answered in the FAQ. One the other side, the rate of paying customers who asked for help was much lower, under 20 people in fact.
So I am off to refactor my web app and take out the free journey and switch over to paid only.
UPDATE: This post made it to the first page on Hacker News, it’s also been Slashdotted and picked up by several tech blogs. Some of the comments have been great and informative, others not so much. Some people have made false assumptions and some I am convinced didn’t even read what I wrote. This is MY experience with freemium. I am not condemning the concept for everyone. If freemium works for your business, that’s great.