Cheaters never win

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We have a trade association client in a niche industry who has a job board that contains 150-400 jobs at any one time. Along with that — available with their membership — is a database of folks who can be searched to match up jobs. Each day, 150-200 new applicants will put their name in the database, hoping that they will be offered a job. Most get jobs this way.

And access to the database of specialized employees for this niche industry is not that expensive, about $500/year. For this amount, you can reach over 200,000 potential people who have skills in the industry, with 150-200 new profiles each day. For the low price of $500/year, you don’t have to pay for an outgoing email system, a database management system, etc. It is all just managed for you.

Yet, even for some people, this relatively low amount is unconscionable and they spend time figuring out how to game the system. If they make their own database using Google Apps, hosted on the Google cloud and then send out an offer to all 200,000+ profiles to go to their site and complete their form, then they have the names for themselves and they no longer have to pay $500/year for access to the database. They are so proud of their cleverness; they have gotten something for free from the man.

Except they haven’t. What they have done overall is devalue the work that went into building the systems so they could have access. They have stolen what is not rightfully theirs. They have added hours and hours of management costs to their “free” structure. They are what is wrong with “free services on the Internet.”

Free is not really free. What people mean by “free” is it is free to them. But if everyone took services and did not give back, the trade association that is providing the service at a really low price will not be able to sustain itself and will close up shop, taking with it the “free” data.

Cheaters never really win. They just make it harder for honest people to weather the storm until they feel that even “free” is too high a price and go somewhere else, leaving real business to conduct its business.

Social media is this way. Twitter should charge for its services. So should And Craig’s List. And newspapers sites everywhere. Google should charge Gmail, Apps and Maps users to be “ad free” and “history free.” I would pay as would many others because these services have become critical to their infrastructure. Someone, somewhere has to pay for the electricity to run the servers, the bandwidth to feed the Internet “tubes” and the salaries of people who constantly tinker with the connections to make sure they all flow.

How many social media experts would there be if they were forced to endure the “real costs” of the “free” tools they are using? Not many, but that would be the point. The experts who truly have skin in the game would be real experts and have real ROIs because they have lived through the real costs of competing in the game.

Free is a myth. Free devalues work.