A wise man once said that free services are offered "as is," whereas when customers are charged money, there is a new responsibility to satisfy them. "When people have major issues with free software -- when, say, Gmail or Twitter goes down -- we get frustrated, but we also tell ourselves, and tell one another, 'Well, what did you expect?' You get what you pay for," the wise man, Alan Jacobs, wrote here at The Atlantic last summer. "We might try to get in touch with Google, but we're not surprised if they don't answer. But when we pay for a service we become righteously indignant when we're not answered; some will even call a lawyer. No wonder, then, that so many tech businesses, large and small, prefer the take-it-or-leave-it model of free services."
Those words came to mind when Google decided to close down Reader, one of the tools I used most on the Internet. After trying out a few alternatives, I settled on Feedly, a free service that I like almost as much. My biggest complaint is that it doesn't permit me to search old items. That's extremely useful for finding half remembered nuggets of wisdom, half-forgotten old posts of my own, writing articles like this one. For all sorts of reasons, it's a feature that I miss.
Today at around 4:55 am, as I refreshed Feedly to catch up on my Rod Dreher, Noah Millman ,and Ta-Nehisi Coates, an intriguing offer popped up: Something called Feedly Pro would soon be available for $5 per month. To raise funds, they were selling a limited number of lifetime memberships for $99.
Did I want one?
A "pro" account offered some excellent perks: article search, https, one-click save of any item to an Evernote notebook, and premium support. If memory serves, they were selling 5,000 of these memberships.
Would they go fast?
The notion that they might played a role in my decisionmaking. I'd suddenly been confronted with the need to gamble, whether on spending $99 for a lifetime membership, or forgoing that possibility forever.
If I don't like Feedly Pro, the offer said, I can get a full refund within 7 days. And that clinched it:
I am a lifetime member of Feedly. Or at least I've purchased the option to be a lifetime member, the cost being the mental hurdle and inconvenience of figuring out how exactly to request a refund if I change my mind.
Is buying this the right move? Maybe six months from now Feedly will go out of business. And didn't McSweeney's try to renege on its lifetime membership offer? Do I really want to be locked into Feedly at this tumultuous, immediately post-Google Reader moment in RSS? But then again, perhaps investing in Feedly will help to make it a better RSS reader than it could otherwise be? And if so, won't you all be envious of me with my prescient, early adopter gamble? Especially if all the good RSS readers start charging a monthly subscription. Will that happen?
I didn't try to mull that last question before deciding. It was 8 am on the East Coast. I imagined countless Brooklyn Feedly users with more savvy than me whipping out their wallets, convinced that the deal was a no-brainer. I feared missing out more than being taken. Isn't that how suckers feel? Ah, but I have seven days to cancel! And I can write this off, right? So I whipped out my credit card. Maybe I am still a sucker. But if you call me one on your blog and you're wrong, I'll have the ability to gleefully search for that post three decades hence in a possible future where everyone pays $69.95 per month for Feedly, after the HBO/ESPN merger, and I'm still coasting on my $99.
I suppose we'll see more software providers charging something for their wares. My only other investment, Scrivener, has certainly been worth the money. I wonder if we'll see more "lifetime offers" like this too, what their average life will be, and whether they'll prove as psychologically irresistible to others as this one was to me. Said Dirty Harry, as well as Google, "Are you feeling lucky?"
This morning I was feeling lucky. If I'm still using Feedly three years from now, I'll have been right.