Flavors of free

Flavors of free

I’ve written a lot about getting free stuff for your Kindles (both tablets and RSKs…Reflective Screen Kindles). The link I just gave you there only scratches the surface. I’ve written specifically about why some e-books are free.

If you are one of the people getting your first EBR (E-Book Reader) or tablet (like the Kindle Fire) this year, it’s good to know…you don’t actually need to spend money on content again. There are plenty of legal sources out there for free content (books, apps, video, music)…even things that other people have paid to have in the past.

I thought in this post I’d look a bit more at what “free” can mean. 🙂

Robert Heinlein popularized the acronym TANSTAAFL in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It stands for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”.

The suggestion is that, even if something is given to you for free, it may come with implied obligations that do end up costing you something, even if it isn’t money. If the boss takes you to lunch for having good performance in the month, there is an implicit idea that if you had a bad performance, you wouldn’t have gotten it. The cost of that free lunch could be many things: it isn’t just that you have the option to be good or not. The boss’ time is worth a lot more than the food, and that was included…so now, you may feel a social obligation to take care of the boss who took care of you.

In the case of free content, there are several ways it can work.

One big choice first: get it from Amazon, or get it somewhere else.

Getting free stuff from Amazon is easy, and it becomes part of your Amazon library.

You want free apps for your Fire?

Amazon has a Free App of the Day (an app for which they charge on other days):

Amazon Appstore

Do they have apps that are free besides that? Oh, yes…over 25,000 are here:

Free Apps in the Amazon Appstore

Not all Amazon Appstore apps are available for all devices, but that’s still a lot of apps. You could get one new free app a day for over 68 years, and not have them all (and that even presumes they haven’t added more in between).

Amazon has a lot more free books than free apps:

Free Kindle store books

It’s about twice as many (more than 50,000 free e-books) at the time of writing.

I do tend to prefer to get things from Amazon…Amazon stores them (and my notes) for me.

However, I do get some from other sources, typically because Amazon doesn’t have it.

I’ll just mention one of those (you can click the link at the beginning of this article for me):


I use that often for free video (but it also has free audio, e-books, and so on). I’m not making notes on video, after all, and I don’t tend to share video (like old movies or TV shows) with the other people on my account.

Amazon, not Amazon, or a mix (my choice)…up to you.

Now, let’s talk about the “flavors of free”.

“Out of the goodness of their hearts”

There are places that make content free because they think it is for the good of society. One that can not be praised enough is

Project Gutenberg

They’ve tirelessly made free e-books available for a long time.

You may feel a social obligation to support the site, and may certainly want to do so, but it isn’t required. Arguably, a public library is like this as well, although you pay taxes to support it typically, and you don’t get to keep the item.

This is largely possible because of the limitations on copyright terms, which causes items to fall out of copyright protection into what is called the “public domain” after a certain amount of time (or for other reasons).

“Advertising supported”

Sometimes, free content is paid for by advertisers. You get it for free, but the advertiser pays the distributor for the loan of your eyeballs and brain. 😉 Very often, a popular app will come both in an ad-supported (“free”) version and a paid version. Pay ninety-nine cents (or some other amount), don’t see ads. Get it for free, see ads. You “pay for it” by watching the ads. One irritation for some people: your app may need to connect to the internet from time to time to download new ads. Once you do that, you can play it again without being connected.

“No Additional Cost”

Amazon has been big on this with Prime. You pay a service fee (typically $79 a year for Amazon Prime). Included in that is content you can use at no additional cost. It feels free, because you don’t pay for each transaction (when you watch a movie or read a book), but you’ve paid for the privilege.

This can be a great deal. If you already had Prime because you used the included two-day shipping, you can now watch many streaming movies and TV shows, and borrow up to a book a month, at no additional cost. If you get Prime specifically to borrow the books, it won’t feel free to you.

Getting you to be a Prime member is worth a lot to Amazon: Prime members tend to buy a lot more from Amazon, from what we’ve heard, including of those physical goods (what I call “diapers and windshield wipers”) where the real profit may be.

On an RSK (Reflective Screen Kindle), Amazon may give you “free” 3G. You do pay a higher additional cost for the device, but you don’t pay a monthly service fee. You get the 3G (which may be limited in use) for no additional cost after you buy the device.

It doesn’t work that way for the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless 32GB…you do pay for a dataplan there, since the data you use on a tablet is so much more than the data you use to download a book.

“Inspiring Sales”

A company may give you free content to get you to buy something else which isn’t free. For example, you might buy a book, and it has a free chapter in it from the next book. Samples of books are a great demonstration of this. You can get a free sample of a book at Amazon. The potential cost here is that you like the book, and end up buying it when you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Similarly, a company may make the first book in a series free (sometimes for a limited time, even one day). After you read that book, you might then buy the other books in the series, or other books by the same author from the same publisher.

There you go…a few of the flavors of free.

Does it make a difference to you when you get it? After all, free is free, right? Do you feel obligated to support Project Gutenberg (maybe by volunteer proof-reading for them) if you use their books? Has a free sample ever gotten you to buy the book? How about a free book getting you to pay for other related books? Does the Prime streaming video and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library feel free to you, or are you acutely aware of that annual fee? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

4 Responses to “Flavors of free”

  1. Tuli Reno Says:

    I’m very fond of Prime. And because I bought into it before the free video and KOLL, those two things do “feel” free to me.

    I am also very fond of the space program. NASA has several free ebooks which they offer in PDf, mobi, and epub formats. Here’s the link:


  2. Karen Says:

    My favorite free place is Book Bassett which ties directly to Amazon. Great daily e-mail with free books.

  3. Man in the Middle Says:

    My latest “free” discovery was the Samsung Chromebook 3G. It costs $329.99 from Amazon, but includes 24 months of Verizon 3G data at 100 MB/mo along with WiFi. To get the least expensive Verizon data on an Apple iPad Mini would cost enough more that the Chromebook feels more like a free add-on than a product. It’s really just a glorified browser, but for what I normally do when away from home, that’s plenty. Naturally, I have the Kindle Cloud Reader already installed on it. Do expect about a 5 week wait if you order one, as it has been selling quickly.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      So, for you, it’s sort of a two for one? If you want the data plan anyway, the Chromebook seems to not add to the cost of the plan?

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