Lately, it seems that the buzz words to use when you want to start a fight are Free, Feemium or Freeconomics, (not to be confused with Steven Levitt.) Once you start talking about free, everyone seems to have an idea about what the perfect solution is, or what the perfect soultion isn't. The two links above are stories that spotlight this phenomenon and the interest it can create.
Earlier, I wrote about how Anime is the U.S. is in trouble because of free. The internet has been driving down the cost of everything for a decade. you can shop for deals, trade things with strangers, or even find *gasp* free things. In my mind, free means absolutely free. No payment, no adverts. Then you have ad-supported, then Freemium (free service with added premium pay services), then pay services. The point of contention demonstrated by the two articles above is a warning.
The Wired article supposes that eventually, things will be supported by complementary products. Movie tickets, it states would be free but supported and paid for by popcorn and candy. (The first rebuttal: what about those who don't want to buy popcorn and candy?) It's a nice looking future. But it's based on the razor/razor blade system. The fault with that is not everyone shaves, and not everyone buys disposable razors.
The Read Write Web article argues on two points. One is transactions, the other is the imagined enemy of all businesses everywhere -- Monopolies. Its three monopoly points are Google, DVRs, and unfunded startups. Unfunded startups, I won't even get in to because of the complexities. Sarbanes-Oxley is still a sore spot to many VCs, and until that has been shuffled around, fixed, or removed, all startups are going to suffer.
The next point, DVRs, are worthy of an entire discussion on their own. Their history has been shaped by getting around the business model that allows network television to remain free. The Read Write article seems to ignore the real reason we love DVRs, and so, compares them to the cell phone model of "give the phone away and charge for the service." I think this misses the mark. A cable company provided DVR is simply a concession of defeat from the service provider. TiVo (and Replay TV before it was murdered by the Industry), as well as computer based DVR platforms are becoming as popular as DVD players. The last thing that a cable company wants to be is a dumb-pipe, and by forcing you to use their box they are trying to maintain that presence and control. (The only way around a service-provided DVR or cable box is a Cable Card enabled device... sometimes.) It is true though, that remotes, esp. those provided by cable and satellite companies, are absolute rubbish.
Read Write Web also speaks of complex transactions. The post presents the middle man pretty much the way we all see it: The middle man is a necessary evil. Micro transaction managers, ad revenue providers, virtual shop operators. They are all middle men, and they all want their cut. Growing under the wing of a middle man could allow one to eventually break free and set up shop on their own, but without business savvy, or a business manager (another middle man,) setting up shop outside of a middle man seems less and less likely.
Another complex transaction? The transaction itself. Read Write only mentioned the add-on services in this respect, using Wired's twenty-dollar plane ticket as an example. They assume that the model the airline has is complicated or complex for both the passenger and the airline. Different streams of revenue may be harder for the airline to track, but to the passenger, its mostly transparent. Buy a ticket: "Want priority boarding? click this box, pay $5." Want a drink while underway? Swipe your card, get your drink. Again the fear, this time for complex transactions, is for the business, not the consumer.