Why Paying For Web Services Can Make Sense

Why Paying For Web Services Can Make Sense

We focus on free web services a lot here at Lifehacker. However, Pinboard developer Macie argues services come with a big problem: if we don’t pay for them, they’re likely to go away. Her solution? Use services that offer a premium option, and subscribe to it whenever possible.

Photo by Don Hankins.

We’ve all had a favourite service that shut down after it couldn’t stay afloat. Some — like my favourite extension, Xmarks — got lucky and were bought out by a bigger company. Others, like Drop.io, were bought out and changed or never heard from again. We’ve often talked about which services are worth paying for, but Macie at previously mentioned Pinboard makes a different point: It’s not just a matter of principle. Paying is sometimes the only thing that can keep these services around:

The dynamic [of many free projects] is the same. Someone builds a cool, free product, it gets popular, and that popularity attracts a buyer. The new owner shuts the product down and the founders issue a glowing press release about how excited they are about synergies going forward. They are never heard from again.

To avoid this problem, avoid mom-and-pop projects that don’t take your money! You might call this the anti-free-software movement.

If every additional user is putting money in the developers’ pockets, then you’re less likely to see the site disappear overnight. If every new user is costing the developers money, and the site is really taking off, then get ready to read about those synergies.

What if a little site you love doesn’t have a business model? Yell at the developers! Explain that you are tired of good projects folding and are willing to pay cash . . . to prevent that from happening. It doesn’t take prohibitive per-user revenue to put a project in the black. It just requires a number greater than zero.

don’t mean to lecture, obviously. We merely think this is an interesting, different way of approaching the issue. While people always say “you should support the projects you like”, it’s often interpreted as a matter of principle — but what Macie’s saying is that it’s more a matter of whether you want to keep using the service next year.

What do you guys think? Have you had any services you love die because they couldn’t make any money? What services do you currently use that you pay for, if only just to see them stick around? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments — and be sure to check out the full article below; it’s a pretty interesting read.

Dono’t Be a Free User [Pinboard Blog]


  • I pay for usenet, rather than use BitTorrents. I pay for Flickr, even though I don’t use it nearly as much as I should for the Pro account features.. for a while I was paying for a subscription-based usenet search plugin for my usenet application. This last one I paid simply to support the developer and keep the project funded. I could always just use services like binsearch.info if I needed to.. unfortunately the search engine kept having problems so while I was happy to pay for it to support them.. it became too much problems for my liking.

  • Ads. Ads everywhere!
    Srsly, I don’t mind ’em. Ad-supported software gives me the game/application I want, and keeps me appraised of hundreds of different online dating websites all at the same time!

  • I am all for paying for online services. I absolutely loved what Louis CK did recently https://buy.louisck.net/ (please delete link if that’s wrong), he released his latest comedy show worldwide, same price US$5 via his website. No delays, no region coding, no DRM, just a straight up awesome release of a very funny comedy night.

    Now I pay for usenet via subscription and could have easily just downloaded this free no problem. But I believe that what he did is the way forward.

    I want subscription services, I want them now, I want them at the same price as everyone else. Why is that so hard?

    • +100000 to this.

      Did you see the results? They’re posted on his website. He made $200,000 profit in 4 days. I hope other people are sitting up and taking note, cause some distributors/publishers should be anxiously shuffling their feet at the result here…

  • Why not stick ads on it? I always pay to remove ads. So either way try are getting revenue. Or think of clever ways to encourage upgrades. Statcounter for example offers https only to subscribers

  • People say “stick ads on it”, but we’re talking about services/platforms as distinct from the web/application front ends – if I publish an API then it could be consumed by any app (the app might make ad revenue, but that doesn’t flow to the service). I’ve never used the web front end for ReadItLater, but I do use the official app so the money goes back to the project.

    I don’t know if users or developers would appreciate it if I make an API where calls to the web service randomly return advertising instead of the data requested. For instance, how would you support an FTP server with advertising? (FTP, not filedude,megavideo,etc).

  • Everything paid should have a free use with either features limited or free for 60 to 90 days use and payment shouldn’t be necessary until that point. And interest of an application/service falling into disuse after not be paid for when the free period is up should discontinue that account after say 60 days.

    Imagine you started using a paid product that sounded great and did everything you were absolutely looking for but in User Experience it was hopeless or didn’t quite do what you thought it did and then you’re in a bind and then some dodgy company has your details.

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