The hidden costs of free services… Matron, take them away!

Kenneth Williams shocked
I have managed to create a new ring-tone and text-tone for my iPhone! You can hear the text-tone below if you wish. It would have been easier to buy one but, as people tend to, I like something for nothing.

Indeed I often expect it. I expect my social interaction on sites such as Facebook to be free, I expect sites such as Youtube to pander to my whim to hear childhood TV theme-tunes for free, and I expect large corporations such as Microsoft to provide my email for free. In the case of my bank I not only expect them to safeguard my money for free, but also to provide me with a free online service to manage that money and pay me interest for the privilege!

That’s why I am personally not too outraged when such providers find ways to make money from my custom. It’s not difficult to see why this has to be the case. There is an obvious cost for the provision of all of these services so it would be naive to expect that they would or could be provided free.¬†That’s not to say that there aren’t other funding models available. Wikipedia eschews advertising and asks users to make a voluntary donation and I am attracted by the ethos of people paying because they feel they should rather than they have to, are forced to, or would be punished if caught not doing so.

But I can see why most service-providers do not go down such a route, particularly those – the majority – which exist for profit. Reliance on the largesse of humanity isn’t as lucrative as thinking up ways to make the great unwashed part with the money tightly grasped in their sticky little fingers. But here we enter an undignified dance. Corporations think up sneakier and subtler ways to make us part with our money, and we think up new and more sophisticated ways not to relinquish our hard-earned cash. Facebook sells space to games which use clever marketing to make in-app sales. The bank slaps on charges for transfers which are unjustifiable viewed in isolation. Youtube has unskippable adverts which delay our enjoyment.

And it is this dance I have a problem with. I won’t go down a route I know to be illegal (or rather, that I know to be immoral which isn’t necessarily the same thing. See my post on Netflix) but as a red-blooded capitalist I view it as a congenital obligation to find ways to enjoy these services to the greatest extent I can whilst paying the least that I can.

And therein lies the problem. I also like to have good service. I would like to have the option to pay money to Youtube not to have adverts. I would like to play games where you pay upfront and thereon know that they aren’t going to spring in-game purchases which are needed to progress. In real life I hate tipping (by which I mean its existence, not that I don’t do it when necessary). Tell me how much your dinner is in advance and I will then compare it to other options and decide if that is a fair price that I’m prepared to pay. You can pay those you subcontract to provide part of that service, such as the waiters, yourself just as you pay your electricity supplier. In return I will not force the lock on the bathroom window to escape without paying.

Anyway, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. I wanted to tell you about my latest step in this unholy fandango. Apple, via its presence-on-Earth iTunes, does its best to force you to pay for any and everything (except the base service of course). I’ve never had a custom ring-tone or text-alert sound and, in a fit of 13-year-old-girliocity, I decided I wanted one on my iPhone. Naively I thought this would be easy to add. Well, not so naively; it is easy if you want to buy one of those provided by Apple. I didn’t, and even if they had the one I wanted I sure as heck didn’t want to pay them for it.

So I Googled the issue and (being sure not to click on any of the paid-for adverts at the top of the list) found an excellent post on how to achieve this from an independent site whose adverts I blocked with ad-blocker. I found the clip I wanted provided free on Youtube (my ad-blocker even covers the video ads that start before Youtube clips Рyay, go me!) and used Savevid to copy the bit I want for the ring to my computer (a small-enough part still to be covered by fair-usage, bitches), then (and this is the bit I love) used iTunes itself to convert the recording to AAC, clip the length precisely (to the tenth of a second) and upload it to my iPhone.

So I screwed over at least 2 large corporations, the Rank Organisation, an independent blogger and a small business, saved 69p for an app, and still stayed on the right side of the law! In the immortal words of Charlie Sheen, “I’m winning!”

Or in the words of my new text-alert, “Matron, take them away!”

Barbara Windsor

Matron, take them away!


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