Free Stuff for All: Free Love
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
''The best things in life are free, or so the saying goes.
Today, there's a lot of free stuff around, if you know where and how to find it. With free newspapers, free Wifi service, free online games, free videos (YouTube), free information (Wikipedia) and free software programs, it's no wonder consumers are starting to expect more free stuff to be offered online and offline.
Independent trend firm, Trendwatching.com dubs this phenomenon as ``free love.'' As competition grows fierce, companies are scrambling to find ways to attract consumers and hold their attention. Freebies, giveaways and samples are soon expected to become an essential part of doing business.
``Free love'' comes with a strings attached, of course. Products and services may be free, but you can be sure its loaded with advertising. Companies still have to find a way of making money from advertising.
While circulation in many newspapers continues to decline around the world, there is a rise in the number of free newspapers. On the Internet, there are already more than 1.6 million Web sites offering news for free.
According to NewspaperInnovation.com, in less than 10 years free daily newspapers have been introduced in Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, South America and Asia.
In Seoul, several free newspapers are available everyday such as Metro, AM7 and Daily Focus. There are also some free English magazines such as Eloquence and Groove.
Trendwatching.com said it expects be continued growth in emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. It also foresees a rise in niche free papers, similar to the free business papers such as London's City A.M. and Scotland's Business7.
Skype pioneered the free phone calls over the Internet, enabling people to make calls from computer-to-computer. Now, there are companies attempting to make cell phone calls free. British mobile operator Blyk and American mobile operator Mosh Mobile both offer free cell phone services but customers will have to deal with advertisement-related messages.
Pumbby, a company based in Brussels, pays users who are willing to receive advertisements on their phones. Another service called Talkster allows consumers to make free international calls from their cellphones, landlines, computers and VoIP phones.
Low-cost carriers may soon be replaced with ultra-low cost carriers giving out free seats on flights. In 2007, European airlineRyanair had a ```sale'' of 1 million seats absolutely free, with no taxes or changes. The airline can do this, since its planes are loaded with advertising on tray tables, seat covers and even exteriors.
Trendwatching.com said to watch out for free seats and pocket money paid for by travel destination and travel partners, especially cities bent on attracting more tourists.
Imagine vending machines serving free cups of soda and coffee. This may soon be a reality, as Japanese vending machine operator Apex is planning to roll out ``MediCafe'' (media and coffee). The machines will play a video commercial while the coffee is being dispensed, and the paper cup will be printed with advertisements. Advertisers may shoulder the partial or full cost of the drinks.
Korea may be one of the most wired countries in the world, but free Wifi is not widely available. Trendwatching.com says that ad-sponsored wireless access points could be the next ``free love'' success story.
In the Philippines, WIGO offers free wireless Internet to registered users at coffee ships, malls and restaurants in Manila, but banner ads from sponsors appear while you are using the service.
Korean gamers are already used to free online games, such as Freestyle and Sudden Attack. Gamers only have to pay extra if they want to purchase certain items to be used in the game itself.
This year, Electronic Arts is releasing a free and online version of its popular Battlefield series, called Battlefield Heroes. Advertisements will appear within the game and on its Web site.
Maybe the Korean music industry, which is suffering from widespread music downloading, could take a cue from these examples of ``free music.''
Qtrax is said to be the world's first free and legal peer-to-peer music service. It hopes to generate advertising revenue to pay licensing fees to record companies; depending on how many times a song is played. British We7 is a British free music service backed by musician Peter Gabriel, which offers free songs with 10-second advertisements.
Fans of British rock band Radiohead were able to download their latest album, at any price they wanted to pay. It is estimated the group ``sold'' 1 million copies.
Don't know where to look for all the wonderful stuff you can get for free? There are several Web sites that list giveaways and samples. The ad-supported Web site myopenbar.com is a way to find free or cheap drinks in U.S. cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Other Web sites include thefreesite.com, startsampling.com, freechannel.net, freebielist.com, freebiesplanet.com, alles-kostenlos.de, yes-its-free.com, totallyfreestuff.com and teenfreeway.com/yp.
Companies are getting into ``tryvertising,'' which allows consumers to try goods and services before buying them.
Electronics giant Samsung opened a Samsung Lounge, featuring its phones, computers and other gadgets, at Incheon International Airport, and recently, eight Samsung Mobile Travel centers at Dallas Airport.
In Tokyo's Harajuku district, a members-only Sample Lab was opened to allow consumers to sample and test new products. Members can try out products, give their feedback and take home up to five samples per visit.
Recently, there has been a rise in the number of people offering free hugs in Seoul's streets. No, he's not some weirdo or pervert. He's likely a follower of the ``Free Hugs'' campaign, which was founded by Juan Mann in Sydney Australia. The basic concept is to offer hugs to strangers in public places.
Free hugs are probably the only thing that comes with no strings attached.