As online media chooses to limit their free content, optional payment becomes a new way for idealistic entrepreneurs to get bread and butter on their table. Is it sustainable, or are their pleads for support overlooked?
PAY PER CHOICE: Michael Gundlach provides his software for free, and lets the users make up their own mind when it comes to the price.
PHOTO: WINGATE DOWNS
«It makes lots of sense to provide it for free. I want to provide ad blocking to everybody, even if they can’t afford it, because I think it’s important.»
After I first downloaded his Chrome browser application «AdBlock» it raised a new awareness to me when it came to the notion of free surfing, and an open world wide web.
Whenever someone tells me that nothing in life comes for free, I’m like: «you can never have experienced a computer and access to high speed Internet», because with those two in your possession most things come easily and for free. If you take two seconds and download a bitTorrent client you can soon be in possession of every book, documentary or game ever made.
But lets not be that advanced. Lets just surf, and see what we can get out of our €30 a month WiFi and a regular browser. Lets watch the latest episode of your favourite sitcom only hours after it was first screened, or listen to your favourite podcast.
There is a price to pay, but most of us are so accustomed to it, we not even notice it anymore. The ads, making up for all the nonpaying customers. When you’re online doing free stuff, you are no longer the customer, the advertisers are.
There is a simple solution to the commercials jumping at you everytime you see a popular YouTube video, visit a news site, or just want «your future Russian wife» to stop winking to you from the corner. Michael Gundlach created one of those solutions, AdBlock that is. For Safari and Google Chrome you can get Gundlach’s version, but there are multiple ad blockers out there, and like most things on the world wide web, it comes for free. But as you’re done installing the adBlock application this message comes up:
This made me realize, maybe it not free, just free to me. Like a 21st. century form of slavery you’re exploiting others work, claiming it like a privilege, because you know how to type an url. I got curious, how could you rely you income on optional payment. If the cashier at the coffee shop asked me if I wanted to pay or not, I’m pretty sure I would have walked out without opening my pocket.
I asked Gundlach, «is it hard to get payments». His answer was that 99% of the AdBlock users did not pay, but «The fact that I can make a living from this only works, I think, because I have such a large user base to compensate for the very low payment rates. Without large numbers of people installing, relying on a few users to pay probably isn’t viable. I spend more time than I would like trying to think of ways to improve payment rates. But I’m still incredulous that anyone does pay for a product that they don’t have to.»
Gundlach spent a year working on AdBlock at night while working at his job during the day, until donations were enough to live off of. His experience is that the payments varies between paying the minimum amount of $5 and the PayPal default of $30. In addition to this, Gundlach enjoys a lot of thank you notes from his customers.
«I’ve been thanked by people with ADHD, blind people who can read their screens more quickly without ads, people recovering from porn addictions, and two epileptics who have fewer seizures when using AdBlock to turn off blinking ads.»
And as Gundlach outlines, there are people out there willing to pay for something they don’t have to pay for. And as one of the founding thought of the Internet, it should be available to everyone, no matter how fortunate or unfortunate you are.
Maybe optional payments will be the future of the independent Internet. Where moral and the size of your wallet decides if you have the means to pay for the services provided.