Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Please Don't Feed The Freeloaders

I haven't been to the zoo in a long time. I think the last time I went was in elementary school. However, I still remember a lesson I learned there. There was a sign posted in various locations that said "Please don't feed the animals." Since feeding the animals seemed like it would be fun, I know some people wonder about the reasoning behind the sign. It was explained to me that if everyone fed the animals, the animals would become lazy and stop going for any food other than the food that was handed to them by visitors at the zoo. They would become freeloaders.


When I was in Germany, I saw three bears that were in the center of a small city. They were sort of the pets of the entire city and any tourists that passed through. They performed tricks for everyone that was taking pictures and they were fed by city workers. I like to think that they connected performing with their meals, but maybe that's too optimistic of an expectation for bears.

Where am I going with this? I've been thinking about the sense of entitlement some people feel in today's society. When it comes to things that are free, I see three classes of people. I think the largest class feels that their mere existence entitles them to free entertainment. I'm probably going to tie this back into writing and reading, but feel free to extrapolate from there.

1. The Freeloaders

There is a class of people now that refuse to pay for apps, books, videos, or anything else to entertain themselves. Once you buy a tablet, everything you consume from then on should be free, right? Amazon is partially to blame for this type of mindset being acceptable (at least for books.) For the longest time, they encouraged authors to give away their works for free for short periods of time. Games were forced to go free as well. You see a lot of games that are free to play but you have to pay for "premium" content. These games are in a class known as "freemium." You can sometimes even get to where the premium subscribers are but it will take a considerable amount of time whereas they just had to shell out some cash to get to that point. Apps sometimes run a free version with advertisements and limited functionality to hook users and get them to buy the actual app for a few dollars. When it comes to content, the Wal-Mart method of making a $1 profit a million times instead of hoping for a one time million dollar purchase seems to be today's preferred method.

The freeloaders are a class of people that never pay for anything. They grab and horde free content like actual hoarders. They literally have thousands of hours of free content between their kindle free books, free apps, YouTube, Pandora, and everything else they've grabbed. They're like the animals in the zoo if visitors were allowed to feed them. Once they have a large amount of free content, they sometimes develop a very strange sense of self-importance. Since so many people hand out things for free, they must really want the opinion of a freeloader in order to validate that their content is good, right? So these freeloaders rate and review. They usually give things horrible ratings claiming that they "expected more," "would demand a full refund if it wasn't free," or "were looking for something different." They could probably identify these things as potential clashes with their personal taste if they read descriptions, looked at other reviews, and read up on the content provider beforehand. They don't do any of those things. They grab things that are free and then complain when it clashes with their very specific expectations. I imagine that they are gluttons in other areas of their lives as well.

Freeloaders like this really bother me. I've gotten reviews from people who admit they didn't bother to read anything I wrote but still feel justified leaving reviews. I've gotten reviews from people who downloaded the free sample and "wanted more." They wanted more for free, mind you, but that doesn't stop them from leaving poor reviews. Before you think this is just about me, let me remind you that on a good app, book, video, or whatever, the three ratings you will most likely see are 5 stars, 4 stars, and 1 star. That makes sense considering that most people won't review things that they don't feel strongly about one way or another but if you read through the 5s, 4s, and 1s, you'll see a lot of 1 star reviews from people who went into grabbing a free item without reading the description or reviews and found that it didn't match their specific tastes. That isn't the content creator's fault, it's the freeloader's fault. Descriptions, ratings, reviews, and Google are all there for a reason.

2. Half and Half

In the Philippines, there's a delicious dessert called a halo-halo. It's basically a mix of different fruits, jellos, ice, ice cream, etc. I think there is a group of people that are like that in a sense. They are looking for a good mixture of free and paid content. I have some e-books on my iPad that I paid for and some that I got for free (in my Kindle app, I don't use iBooks.) I've enjoyed books from both areas. When it comes to apps, I'm the same way. Some are great freebies and some are great paid apps. The half and half group is who I really want as my readers. I don't mind if they grab a free book from me every once in a while but I also hope they will pay for others if they enjoy the free one that they downloaded. A lot of authors and other content providers are banking on this strategy with freemium games and making the first book in a series free with the hope that readers will go on to purchase the rest in the series. It has worked incredibly well for some.

If I download a free app or book to sample it and see if I want the full version or another in the series, I don't leave poor ratings or reviews if I decide that it isn't my thing. When someone gives me a gift, it would be bad taste for me to tell them that their gift sucked. This seems to be where the half and halfs are very different from the freeloaders. They are searching for their own perfect mix but I think most of them realize that hard work went into whatever they are downloading (paid or free) and they treat it as a gift or a valued purchase. I don't hand out poor ratings if something isn't suited to my taste. The only time I would ever hand out a poor rating is if I felt someone was scamming their customers or if I vehemently disagree with the points they are making. I can't recall either of these things happening in quite a while.

3. The Truly Noble

These are the people that pay for everything they grab, even if they have the chance to get it for free. They have no problem whatsoever purchasing a book, app, video, song, etc. if they feel it will entertain them. I've met a few of these people who have specifically refused to download one of my books for free. They know it helps me out if they grab it when it's at full price and they wait until it is before they buy it. These people are rare... and they are also awesome. They truly understand the value of the work they are sampling and I think they have the greatest respect for the artists that bring them the apps they enjoy, the songs that help them rock out, the books that bring them to new worlds, and the videos that entertain them for hours.


You are alive and that's great. Your mere existence, however, doesn't really entitle you to much. Our nation's founders, borrowing an idea from Locke, decided that everyone has the natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I didn't see an endless stream of free content in that list. Those that work hard for their money understand that life is not a handout. Being an app writer, graphics artist, author, or content creator is a part-time (or full-time) job in many cases and not a hobby. Many of those who provide you with media and content passed on dozens of ideas before they produced whatever you are downloading. They spent hours putting it together. I think that should be in everyone's mind while they decide what it's actual value really is.

As always, feel free to comment and / or add your opinions in the comment section below and thanks for reading. (I'm also really glad that you can't rate blogs, because producing this much free content is still fun for me but I don't think it would be all that fun if people could give me 1 star ratings with comments like "I expected monkeys and your blog "History and Technology" had nothing to do with monkeys. Fail. 1 star." Enough ratings like that and most people would stop blogging.)


  1. Excellent post, Randy. Free has its benefits, but I think that if someone likes what they read/use/taste/hear etc, they should show the creator some respect and pay for future content.

  2. Great blog post, Randy. I couldn't have said it better. I know some people like those you describe.

  3. I know a woman who is comfortable enough to take cruises, travel to Vegas, and whatnot. She gets a big kick out of saying, "I never pay for books." The more people who follow her lead, the fewer good books will become available because nobody will be able to afford to write books anymore. Even writers have to eat, pay the electric bill, feed their kids, etc.

  4. Well said!

    I personally only ever use free to try an author I'm not sure I will like, or when I've specifically been asked to review and I'm given a copy because the author wants to say thanks for my time. The rest of the time I pay for whatever I want. I never pirate anything as someone somewhere put effort into it and those hours spent deserve wages.

    The people who get loads of stuff free and never pay really make me angry, because they are basically saying they don't think the time the creator spent on that project is worth rewarding.