Free Toast

August 26, 2009


I dropped into my usual coffee shop this morning for my breakfast – a latte and toast. Until recently, my breakfast was just the latte, but now they have a deal and the toast is free with my regular hot drink. That’s a fantastic deal. But there are some problems with it.

Firstly, if it’s acceptable for you to give away toast for free, why did you charge us so much in the past?

Secondly, now that it’s free, you’ve devalued the toast. If you remove the deal in the future, someone like me who wouldn’t have bought toast to begin with sees the price of toast rise by 100%.

Thirdly, and most importantly, you’ve devalued the coffee – the product I was interested in in the first place. Some days I eat my breakfast at home and I just want to buy coffee. But now, all of a sudden, just buying the coffee seems very expensive. I didn’t used to think it was so expensive – I bought it every morning. Now that I have been getting so much for my €2.95, it seems pricey for just a cup of coffee.

This leads me to think that, once the promotion is over, I’ll re- think even buying the coffee.

And this is the problem with free; once you have continuously offered something for free, you can’t reasonably expect us to start paying for the same thing. This is the issue being faced by online publishers –they’re increasingly looking to create platforms where news content will have to be paid for. How are we as consumers going to react? For me, unless they do something that adds a great deal more value, I just can’t see myself paying to read the news online. What’s more, the extra value they offer will have to be costly enough for them to produce that it represents a barrier for their free- to- read competitors.  Otherwise, those competitors will simply copy what their counterparts are doing, and put it to market for free.

Seth Godin sums it up what we need from these publishers:  ‘People will pay for content if it is so unique they can’t get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people.’

I’m going to need my coffee in a diamond- studded cup.




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