Is This the Beginning of the End for “Free”?
A little-known website, Drudge Report, links to a few stories this morning with the same theme: Businesses in this economy are going to stop giving their products away. First of all, apparently NewsCorp is going to start charging for all of its news in the near future — online, and everything. I have no idea whether this will be good for its profit margin or condemn it to online irrelevancy. (We subscribe to the Wall Street Journal here at work, so I guess it won’t affect us too much.)
Somewhat more interesting is the decision by some coffee shops to force people who sit there all day to actually buy something. I have never had a cup of coffee, so I have not spent too much time in coffee shops. Nonetheless, during the little time I have spent in them, I have always been amazed at the people sitting there using the resources without paying anything (or paying barely anything). When I had my own small business in the ’90s, I tried not to do anything for free. I often gave extremely large discounts in certain situations (mostly for multiple legal papers being served at the same address), but I didn’t ever want to do anything for free. I certainly understand why some coffee shop owners no longer think its cute to have people taking up seats for hours without paying for anything.
This issue hits home because one of our favorite places to go after work here at the Show-Me Institute is C.J. Muggs in Clayton, where they set out excellent free appetizers during happy hour. They more than make back this loss from beer drinkers, but not everyone who works at the institute drinks alcohol. So, I wonder whether Muggs makes any money on the people who go there, buy a soda (they always pay for something), and then eat the free food? I have to guess that they make enough money off the beer drinkers to more than make up for a few people who just get a soda. But, if Muggs were to take away the free food, we would be really screwed.