When the history of current iteration of the Web is written, this will be the Long Tail Era. The Web has been obsessed with the Long Tail, along with its companion business model, Free. Its reign might be coming to an end.
The problem with the Free is you often get what you pay for. Don’t get me wrong, the Long Tail still exists and will continue to fuel countless businesses. But the idea that just because distribution and production is cheap that everything comes without charging has been an impediment to the development of sustainable digital business models. Free is it’s often simply a trendy way of saying Advertising. The problem there is the incredible supply-demand imbalance means there’s simply not enough ad dollars to support the Free economy. Think of all the Facebook app developers trying to rub a few ad network pennies together. This isn’t going to change anytime soon.
There are signs of maturation. Think about the app world. What’s the most successful app company? Zynga. It has built a $100 million business (maybe) off charging for virtual goods, poker chips, etc. Companies like Clickable and Meetup charge for valuable services. There's even hope for the app world. Robert Scoble points to the quick success of Tweetie 2.0, a new iPhone Twitter app that – gasp – costs $2.99. Since its release last week, the app has become the top U.S. seller in the App Store. Naturally this has elicited howls from the Free faithful that Tweetie is violating some deeply held principle by charging. See, the problem is people paid for the original version, so I guess the logic is their $3 investment covered a lifetime of development. How to put this? That’s retarded. It’s so backwards that somehow we’ve fallen into this trap of thinking that products delivered as ones and zeroes aren’t worth money while carbon-based goods are. I enjoy “free” stuff, but I had no problem paying for Tweetie because I heard it works great and (free) Tweetdeck constantly crashes on me and works slowly. It’s time to retire the worship of Free and start treating consumers like grownups.