Why the “Wait, everything isn’t free?” economy is a problem

On Tuesday, my friend Derek tweeted something that spurred my brain onto a topic that I’ve struggled with for quite some time. Namely, the expectation that so many of the things we read, watch or do should just be free, for some reason or another. Or no reason.

In this case, he’s referring to Nintendo’s “Super Mario Run,” which become a top-grossing game on iOS devices shortly after its launch two weeks ago. It has since suffered significantly after the $9.99 cost to keep playing after a handful of levels was apparently higher than expectations of its players, and its ratings in the App Store have taken a major hit because of this.

That isn’t to say that $9.99 was the right price for this game, but it speaks to people’s interests in paying for goods and services. A game that was downloaded an estimated 40 million times in four days seemed like like a statistically significant example, don’t you think?

To the media!

While the actual numbers vary from survey to survey, a mid-2016 survey by eMarketer showed that roughly 25% of U.S. users deployed some sort of ad blocking software on their devices. Their estimates on the year-over-year growth of ad blocker usage are staggering, too. Are people blocking ads simply because they don’t like them? Sure, some probably are. In other cases, people are doing so because some ads have become seriously intrusive, others because they have concerns about malware. The reasons for ad blocking are myriad.

Personally, I keep an ad blocker on my computer for when I visit websites that are running dozens and dozens (and dozens) of trackers, and the ads running on the page actually slow my machine down. That shouldn’t happen, no matter how old your computer is. Generally speaking, I leave the ad blocker off unless I’m visiting an unfamiliar site because the outlet has to make money somehow.

So why do people do it? This answer on Quora to the question “Why are people willing to pay $4 for a bag of chips but not $1 for an app?” nails it in its conclusion: “Cloud apps and mobile apps came at a time when people thought information goods should be free and thus, we have anchors at $0.”

Think about that for a second and realize what it means. Boiling it down, anyone involved with the growth (guilty as charged) of the digital economy and its apps, news, games, storage, video, etc. basically shot our future selves in the feet because of the expectations created by giving away just about anything for free, or having “freemium” models.

That’s not to say that the decision to go that route was wrong, but it had such a lasting effect on downloaders, customers, users, what have you, that it became rote, and cracking that code will probably be a challenge for the foreseeable future.

So what?

Over of the last 10-11 years, I’ve worked with dozens and dozens (and dozens) of startups, and have tried to stay in tune with their “mood,” as it has been helpful in knowing what was going on behind the scenes with their investors and advisors. You could absolutely tell when the marketplace was turning one way or another by asking some pretty simple questions. As I am putting together this blog post I caught this story, “Silicon Valley sobers up,” which includes quotes like “They had only known a world where another fund-raise was just around the corner” from Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill. That’s gotta tell you something. All of these things are related, even if only indirectly.

We’ve been surviving on the gravy train that has been continually refilled by angel investors and A- and B- (and C-) rounds of funding. Contrary to popular belief, the dining car on that train does close from time to time, even though it seems like it might be 24/7/365.

Let’s leave the talk about censorship, cyberbullying and free speech aside for a second, and realize that we live in a world where the average person would likely walk away from Facebook, Twitter and other services in a second were they asked to pay a nominal monthly fee to use them. Those same people abandoned daily newspapers that cost less than a cup of coffee because they saw the opportunity to read “the same news” online for free (with ads that they subsequently blocked), so why wouldn’t they simply move on to the next new digital watercooler where they could talk with their friends and family? Don’t think so? It’s happened before, simply because Facebook built a better mousetrap.

These are companies that a decent portion of our economy is built on. The amount of money brands spend to engage, market and sell on these platforms is staggering. Those dollars weren’t spent blindly, they have a revenue number against them. Hell, the effect of Facebook stock tanking would create ripples across that marketplace of investors putting their eggs into other startups’ baskets, compounding the whole thing. But somehow, we all chug along just expecting our news feed or tweets to be there in the morning, not even blinking an eye on how these services fund themselves, or intentionally hindering them from doing so. It’s just not sustainable.

Beyond that, let’s talk about how these attitudes affect the broader media landscape. Irrelevant of where you stand on the political aisle, it’d be silly to not think that the rise of so-called “fake news” and the shrinking (or downright demise) of thousands and thousands of media outlets due to lost revenues aren’t related. That isn’t at all to say that “fake news” hasn’t blossomed because of people’s (shrinking) attention spans and the ease of digital publishing, but it has certainly taken more of a hold than it might have given previous levels of journalism in the world, in my estimation.


This isn’t meant to be a lecture, I’m simply trying to take 1,000 (okay, 1,013 as of now) words to point out that while we’re all enjoying the run-up to 2017 that we need to bear some responsibility for the future of the digital economy we all know and love. That doesn’t mean you have to run out and purchase a newspaper subscription or make some in-app purchases, however. I just think it would be smart for all of us to consider how all these things “fit together” and recognize that while “information wants to be free,” the tools, websites, apps and platforms we use every day aren’t just magically running out there. They’re curated, coded, hosted, shared, designed and so forth.

Let’s try and make sure we can “have nice things” in the future, K?

Books: “Club Soccer 101” by Luke Dempsey

This week, I finished up the second of a few soccer-related books I’ve been reading of late (and one of about four I have out from the library!), the long-titled “Club Soccer 101: The Essential Guide to the Stars, Stats and Stories of 101 of the Greatest Teams in the World” by Luke Dempsey. I am a huge fan of this book and will probably pick up a copy, as it’s definitely something I could see myself grabbing when looking to recall something of interest. If you’re a club soccer fan that takes an interest in some of the curiosities of soccer around the world, e.g. which club actually borrowed another’s kit colors, how politics and religion has affected the game, this is the book for you.

First off, this is more about the stars and stories of these clubs, not so much about stats. It pulls some of the basics – top goal-scorers, most appearances, how big stadia are – but that stuff can get outdated, quick. If you’re looking for a compendium of that, you’d be hard pressed to not just dig a bit on the internet. Second, don’t be bummed if your favorite club isn’t included. I was pleased to see the histories and anecdotes about teams from Africa to Asia to Europe and the Americas, and just about anywhere else soccer has made an impact.

Dempsey goes through 101 clubs in relative haste, considering the detail he probably could have gone through for some of them. Of course, the Real Madrids of the world get a bit more page space, but team success isn’t the only reason clubs are mentioned. Some have long histories (see: Notts County), while others have been involved in periods of great success and great sadness (see: Liverpool). It’s a great mix, and I learned quite a bit about South American clubs I knew about, but had no detail on. I also learned that the revolving door of managers in England has been happening for a really, really, really, long time.

All in all, it’s a good introduction for someone interested in learning more about the world’s clubs, and a solid read for someone that’s been following the game for years. The color Dempsey adds to his writing – it’s pretty clear he’s not a fan of most ultras, and he has a point of view I can concur with regarding fascists, for instance – adds to the drama many of us who love soccer feel every day.


Club Soccer 101 Book Cover Club Soccer 101
Luke Dempsey
Sports & Recreation
W. W. Norton
September 8, 2014

A guide to the most popular one hundred and one soccer teams in the world includes each team's history, statistics, prominent players, and anecdotes from famous games.

Books: “When Nobody Was Watching” by Carli Lloyd

A few weeks ago, I read Carli Lloyd’s “When Nobody Was Watching,” which chronicles the 2015 FIFA Player of the Year’s playing career from some of her earliest days up until her recent accolades and the wage discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Women’s National Team against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF).

For me, it was intriguing to read as someone who hasn’t grown up as a “full-time” athlete. I’ve always played random sports. Little League and Senior League baseball, a random stint at Tae Kwon Do, a ton of beach and indoor volleyball, hockey, and pickup games of basketball, soccer, football, et al, were typically my speed. Until this year, I’d really never regularly played competitive soccer at any level beyond a bit of rec in college, so it was amusing to have those mental delusions of “oh yeah, I know what that’s like” when reading Lloyd’s frustrations with a particular on-field moment. As someone who grew up in New Jersey, it’s had the extra “catch” of reading about the towns she traveled to and trained in, her time playing at Rutgers University, and even the spot she was engaged, as I’m somewhat familiar with all of them.

What I thought was refreshing to read in her book was that she was confident in her abilities as a player (with one notable exception I won’t give away), all the while actually having goals in mind. She worked her way through injuries, challenging travel, and “life stuff” that bogs down almost all of us to get where she is today. You know, two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup champion, and well-respected athlete on the world stage.

Also of note were Lloyd’s takes on embattled goalkeeper Hope Solo, who has had her share of run-ins with the law and U.S. Soccer, and all the while she’s described as a “best friend” by the author. She paints a bit of a different picture of some of Solo’s perceived shortcomings, but doesn’t pull any punches or pretend that any of the publicly-known incidents didn’t happen.

Perhaps most important is how Lloyd has taken her self-confidence (and the ever-present words and training of coach James Galanis) to continue to push herself, on and off the field. She continues to be at the forefront of the aforementioned legal action against USSF, but it doesn’t appear to be a distraction to her play on the field.

Whether you like (or love) soccer or not, this is a solid read. It’s not preachy, nor is it self-aggrandizing for Lloyd, and doesn’t appear to have simply been a “let’s cash in on my (and my team’s) recent successes” play, in my opinion. If you’re 15 or 50, give it a whirl.

When Nobody Was Watching Book Cover When Nobody Was Watching
Carli Lloyd
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 26, 2016

Tonight, I voted to not send our country back decades

In 2009, I moved from New Jersey to Washington State, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons wasn’t that you vote via mail (or you can drop your ballot off in person), although it’s turned out to be a pretty cool “perk” of living here. Tonight, I filled out my ballot, and tomorrow I’ll walk it up to the county ballot box. I’m not here to provide conversation filler about voting methods, however.

Tonight, I voted for Hillary Clinton.

I’m not a one-topic voter, nor am I always a “straight down the ticket” voter. While I typically vote for a Democrat, that’s not always the case.

This year, however, I might be a one-topic voter when it comes to who is in the Oval Office for the next four years. That topic is ensuring someone I consider abhorrent – as a businessperson, prospective politician, and honestly, as a person – is never given the keys to the United States of America. Ever.

You see, I’m no stranger to Mr. Trump and his shenanigans. Growing up on the Jersey Shore, “The Donald” was a regular fixture in the local newspaper, the Asbury Park Press. I remember seeing his name and face emblazoned on the front and inside pages of the paper throughout most of my life living in the area. It wasn’t usually good, either.

In the 1990s, this was the type of story that many of us were reading on the regular about Trump. For every story like that, imagine 10-20 smaller ones in local or regional publications. I guess you’ve got to give the guy credit, for this bit from a 1992 Bloomberg piece has turned out to be fairly prescient and could be in a story today.

Trump’s capacious ego also remains largely intact. With typical bravado, he says: “You’ll never see me sitting in the corner sucking my thumb. The name Trump will be hotter than ever.”

Seeing Donald Trump rise through the ranks with voters has genuinely made me sad for America. You see, Atlantic City had problems of its own that Trump could have done something about. But he didn’t. AC was, for him, a gamble. One he lost. He’s not alone in failing Atlantic City over the long term, but he is most certainly the poster child, mostly because of that ego that put his name on his properties. He rode the wave that was gambling and hospitality, just as any businessperson might do in any industry. He was not any sort of “for the people” employer, in my opinion, at any point. There are probably hundreds of stories like this one where he “renegotiated” a deal on the fly, just because he could be a bully. That business owner reported almost going out of business because of it. Is that who should be running this country?

This isn’t to say you don’t want someone as President who can push around an opponent. You do. You want a direct, focused individual who’s smart enough to hire people smarter than them to do various jobs within the government. At face value, sure, Donald Trump brings that to the table. But are we just going to leverage this country to a point where he thinks he can hit the do-over button if we fall into financial disaster? I’m not trying to be base about it, but he hasn’t shown that he thinks otherwise.

Let’s forget about business for a second, however, as that’s not even the worst of it.

Donald Trump is, by many, many, (many) accounts, either actually racist, or simply an complete and total idiot when it comes to interacting with anyone that doesn’t look like him. Err, aren’t white. That is, unfortunately, apparently appealing to a lot of people who live in the US of A.

Before you say “Tom, it’s not appealing to some people in this country, they are behind him for his other policies,” I’ll just stop you. White nationalists aren’t supporting Trump “just because.” He has gained so much momentum by leaning on some people’s fears. By simply stating he wanted a “total and complete shutdown” on immigration of Muslims to the United States, he reached a segment of Americans he knew would go all-in on that. At a rally in South Carolina the day that announcement came out, he said, “I have friends that are Muslims. They are great people — but they know we have a problem.” Apparently, “I have Muslim friends” is The Donald’s “I have black friends.”

No. Just no.

This isn’t about saying I voted for Hillary Clinton while not saying anything positive about her or engaging in “the lesser of two evils” trash conversation. This is about voting for someone who isn’t going to be an abject embarrassment on America across the world.

The Dallas Morning News published an editorial in September about how Donald Trump “is no Republican” and “has displayed an authoritarian streak that should horrify limited-government advocates.” That newspaper has not recommended a Democrat for President for more than 75 years. The opening line to “part two” of their recommendation says it all:

There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. We recommend Hillary Clinton.

And with that, I will leave you to your own devices. Literally.

10 PRINT “hello, world”

This is a lot less “hello, world” and a lot more “hello, again.”

For those of you who’ve read my blog before, welcome back. For everyone else, hello! I’ve been writing online somewhere or other since around 2000, including here on this site, a few others I’ve started (and since stopped), a few paid spots, and a column at PRWeek that I’ve been doing since 2009. It’s kind of a thing. The world of Twitter tends to take a lot of my attention these days, and has for years now, but I’ve been talking about writing a bit more regularly for a bit now, and here we are.

What will this blog be about? In the past, I wrote about everything from travel to media to advertising, marketing and PR, some sports and more. So, probably a bit of the same.

And away we go!