What’s meant to be free

What’s meant to be free (and not)
: It’s still not clear whether the Web is meant to be free. Hell, it’s still not clear what the Web is meant to be.

But our expectations of free v. fee are quite clear for other media — and some new businesses are ignoring that consensus at their financial peril.

: Exhibit 1: Sirius Radio, one of two satellite radio companies, just announced that it has to raise a whopping $600 million to stay in business until it has enough customers to make money. And why is that? Because radio is meant to be free. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay almost $300 for a radio (XM, the competitor, in this case) that I can play only in my car and then pay another $12.95 per month for what is free and plentiful — and they don’t even have Howard Stern. Would I rather listen to radio anywhere and for free for the price of hearing some commercials? Yes. Radio is meant to be free.

: Exhibit 2: Personal video recorder (aka TiVo, Sonic Blue) sales continue to lag expectations badly. The Times reports that there are 2.3 million in homes now; current estimates expect 15 million by 2006 but original estimates were for 20 to 50 million by 2005. Now everyone I know who has a TiVo loves it (including Howard) and it’s true that TV is not necessarily free; we are willing to pay more for cable. But we’re willing to pay more because we get more programming; we are willing to pay for HBO because it gives us The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feed Under. I will pay for a TV. I will pay for a VCR. I will pay for premium programming. I will pay for video tapes. But I will not pay for an ongoing service that gives me nothing but TV listings (which I already get in many forms, most for free today), which is the TiVo model. Once I buy the thing, I should be able to use it but with the most popular brand, I can’t. That is why they are not selling. The listings are meant to be free.

Gadget heaven
: Nick Denton announces the launch of a new blog devoted to gizmos — Gizmodo.com. I’ve been secretly reading the beta for weeks now. Love gadgets. Gotta love the blog. Note also the clever “Read/Buy” links. Nick intends to make this make money. So he can buy gadgets. Life is a big circle.