Alex Blaze

No Such Thing as a Thousand Free Friends

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 30, 2011 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Facebook, finance industry, money, television

Via Consumerist, I can't find a source for this other than imgur:


If you can't read it, it's one pig saying, "Isn't it great? We have to pay nothing for the barn." Another responds, "Yeah! And even the food is free." Caption reads: "Facebook and you. If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer. You're the product being sold."

While the cartoon specifically mentions Facebook, this logic applies to media that don't depend on subscriptions or grants or the barely-paid hard work of what-are-essentially-volunteers.

A while back my mother subscribed to House Beautiful, a decorating magazine whose content was about 95% advertising (I exaggerate... but not by much). After two years she decided she didn't have time to read it anymore and didn't renew her subscription, but they kept on calling and offering better and better deals to get her started again. As she put it, they eventually tricked her into getting another subscription by offering it for free along with a book she wanted, and then sent her a version of that book condensed into a pamphlet.

The point of that story is that it was clear that she wasn't the customer, and that House Beautiful's business model depended more on advertising than it did on subscription revenue. Adding another house in the suburbs to its mailing list was an asset, not a liability.

It's what gets me about television, how people think it's free, without ever stopping to realize that if advertisers didn't expect to get at least $1 more than what they spend to produce and run an individual ad (which can cost hundreds of thousands), then they wouldn't do it.

Look around a casino - all that was paid for by money people lost thinking that they'd win. Flip through the TV dial - all that was paid for by money people spent on stuff they otherwise wouldn't have bought.

Not that ads are evil and are always to be avoided, but they definitely don't make something free.

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Love this, and I'm so glad to see you posting here.

Great to see your post! I love your clear-eyed view on things.

As for your topic, I am constantly inconvenienced by ppl from India calling me wanting to renew or start my subscription (they all follow a script, and have absolutely no idea what any of your answers mean, so you have to go through a long list of 'Are you this?') to some 'trade magazine' (really nothing more than adds with a few Weekly Reader level articles thrown in). For years, I have tried telling them I have absolutely no use for their mag, don't work in the specialized fields they are targeted at, and all that. I used to get very frustrated at how they were wasting money and resources stalking me and sending me stuff I was jsut going to pitch.

One day I read a story about free alt-weekly newpapers being secretly destroyed if they weren't taken from the boxes, and I found out about the impact of number of copies distributed on ad rates. Suddenly I understood the urgent appeals to send me mags I didn't want.

On a positive note, these days I can ask for a digital version (all sent to an email address I have never even gone to), so no paper or fuel is wasted. Plus, I guess it provides some pay for the ppl at the call centers.

But, then, I guess the switch to digital puts ppl who make paper, and do printing and transportation out of work, doesn't it? Funny how every good thing comes at someone's expense.

This is great. Hopefully some people who were considering getting a Facebook account will be deterred from doing so and others who have one will cancel theirs. I would hope people would wake up to the destructiveness of a company that has blatantly said that privacy is 'outdated'. Seriously, Mark Zuckerberg believes that one of our most fundamental universal human rights is outdated.

*Extremely happy to see Alex back!!*

Sandra Louise Sandra Louise | September 30, 2011 4:46 PM


"In order for someone to get something for nothing, someone, somewhere, has to get nothing for something." -Robert A. Heinlein

*for those unenlightended by science fiction, TANSTAAFL is: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Also from RAH.

Aubrey Haltom | September 30, 2011 4:53 PM

I'll echo the sentiments expressed previously - good to see your post here. (or anywhere, for that matter...)
The cartoon, and the caption ("if you're not paying for it...") have been running around Facebook - posted, re-posted.
As you mention, the point isn't really about Facebook. (to be honest, I don't have as much of a problem w/Facebook itself.)
There needs to be a greater social conversation re: the use of technology, media - by governments, by corporations and other private businesses, schools - really, just an across the board discussion on matters such as privacy.
Until then, your post (and its message) bear constant repeating.
We need to remind ourselves of that quaint dictum - 'there's no such thing as a free lunch.'
Perhaps updated to say something along the lines of 'if the lunch is free, make sure you aren't the meal...'

Heavens to Murgatroid, is that Alex?

You are missed!

Glad to see you back on the blog! Did you ever regain control of your twitter account, btw? It was hacked for a while & sending out spam messages.