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Get your money for nothing and your goodies for free

Mike Essex

Every year millions of books, games, TV shows and other items are given away for free.

Every year millions of books, games, TV shows and other items are given away for free. From setting up “product review” blogs, where you can get freebies in return for plugging companies, to the growth of the “freemium” business model, where web-based firms provide a basic ­service for free while encouraging users to sign up for the premium, fee-paying version, there are now more ways than ever for savvy consumers to get their hands on the things they want without having to put their hands in their pockets.

With Amazon’s Kindle, customers have access to more free books than it is possible to read in a lifetime, but you do not actually need to own a Kindle—they are also available for free to download to a PC or iPhone. This includes classics by the likes of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde, alongside new books that cover every genre imaginable. These e-books are given away for free to lure customers to the platform, in the hope that they will later buy paid-for books.

Music-streaming site Spotify has millions of songs available. You can pick from an enormous database on Spotify Free, but you will have to put up with an advert every few songs. Spotify also offers paid versions if you do not want any ads.

Most people are aware that TV stations offer their own free services that let you catch up on the week’s shows. In the United Kingdom Channel 4 has taken this a step further with free content on its YouTube channel, from the best bits of Father Ted to TV episodes of shows such as Big Brother and The IT Crowd. Content you would normally have to buy on DVD can now be watched for free.

Even software can be downloaded for free. OpenOffice, for example, offers similar functionality to Microsoft Office. Likewise, Gimp (GNU image-manipulation programme) is a free image-manipulation programme that works like Adobe Photoshop, but comes without the hefty price tag.

Then there are video games, with free apps on the iPhone and free online games playable through Facebook. Since last month PC users have been able to download and play Sony’s popular DC Universe Online game for free. But, as you would expect, there are also paid-for options available offering “premium access to game content”. The www.geek.com website reported that, as a result of the change (you previously had to pay), daily revenue for the game leapt by 700% and the number of players soared—and was continuing to grow—at a rate of 6% a day.

All this represents a significant shift away from illegal file-sharing sites—we can get content for free, in a way that is legal and often more user-friendly. These examples are all of digital products, which carry far fewer overheads and are easier to make for free, but there is also a growing trend towards free physical products. Every year Ben & Jerry’s has a “Free Cone Day” when, for a few hours, you can get a free scoop of ice cream at a participating store.

Meanwhile, there are brands that send their products to bloggers so that they will talk about them online. My own blog, www.blagman.co.uk, was set up with a simple goal: I would review the products that companies sent me. The blog has received more than 350 complimentary products from companies seeking to gain free exposure, including Argos, L’Oreal, Ikea and Nissan.

It is an easy-to-emulate strategy: almost anyone is able to start a blog in minutes and then begin helping companies to get extra brand awareness in return for freebies. There are also customers who film YouTube videos, set records or even tell their friends about a product to get it without spending any money.

I call this the “unique offer” and, essentially, if you can offer a company something in return for their product—such as telling your friends about it, offering product feedback or being a mystery shopper—this can net you products without spending any money.

In the past three years the internet has started to evolve away from a den of piracy to something a lot more sustainable, based on freemium and advert-driven revenue models. Linked to this is a revival of bartering, as customers start to offer things to companies in return for free goods. This presents great opportunities for customers to save money and pick and choose the things they want for free. So get out there and take a look—you may be surprised at what you could save.

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