listen to music, watch tv shows and follow the latest news all without paying a cent. But while things are slowly but surely becoming free, I still believe people are willing to pay for certain value propositions.
I believe the following 5 things are uniquely profitable in a world of free:
People are inherently lazy. If you make their lives easier, they will pay you for it.
There are several ways to listen or download music for free, yet people are still paying for songs via iTunes or amazon.com. Why? Because of how easy it is to find and download music on those sites. People value their time more than the 99 cents per download. If you make things convenient and easy people will pay.
Price ensures a more serious and interested clientele. There are many online forums that are free (i.e. Sitepoint, DPreview), but there are also a handful you need to pay for to access (i.e. Webmasterworld, SomethingAwful, metafilter). I believe the reason people are willing to pay for those online communities is because the quality of the content is better. There is a higher signal to noise ratio. This same premise applies to dating sites. People will pay for membership to online dating sites, as opposed to finding dates through any number of free social networks.
3. Additional Functionality
Many websites give consumers just enough services to whet their pallets, and then charge for more functionality or more services, also called the "freemium model." Notable examples include the 37 Signals' product offering, Flickr's Pro Account, and Skype.
Wordpress.com is a great example of this. They provide anyone the ability to have their own personal blog for free however they charge for the ability to customize the CSS or a the blogs domain name for additional fees. Smugmug is another example.
People still value keeping their private information private. To protect their identity people are willing to pay GoDaddy an extra fee when registering a domain name to ensure the address remains undisclosed.
What do you value enough that you are willing to open your wallet for?
Note 1: I would like to delve into this further and have proposed a talk for next year's SXSW conference on this topic. If this discussion is of interest to you, I welcome any feedback and would appreciate your vote.
* peace of mind
Any other ideas?]]