With the demise of the Posterous blog platform thanks to a sellout to Twitter and Google Reader's upcoming shutdown, I'm beginning to realize how dangerous free services can be. When you are a paying customer, you have clout. If you're not happy it's going to impact the business's profits and they are going to work hard to keep you - and your money - happy. In the tech world, startup services and platforms often begin with free features. They could have a plan for generating revenue - maybe with a premium service in addition to the free one - or they may just want to get popular enough to attract a buyer. Generally, we (the users) don't have a clue what their plan is and should remain wary. Even the big guys like Google will pull the plug on a popular service like Reader when they want to point you to a different service. So what if they lose a few (thousand) free customers?
That being said, I'm a firm believer that competition and profit are great motivators. I've spent the $5 to reserve an account at Posthaven and I'm amazed at the effort they have made to give us Posterous users a safe alternative. The data migration effort alone was huge! As soon as the email posting and distribution features are functional, $60/year will be a small price to pay to get our family's private "news service" up and running again. The fact that I can have 9 additional blogs as part of that price is very nice - and will likely be put to good use - but it's knowing that the developers will do everything they can to keep the platform up, running and well-maintained that is the top of my priority list.
There's a lot of effort underway to develop alternatives to Google Reader. I have been using the Reeder apps [Mac & iOS] and they are working hard to provide multiple alternatives for managing feed subscriptions and keeping everything in synch across the apps. They have a couple of solutions in place on the iPhone app - both of them requiring a paid subscription. Until the Mac and iPad apps are updated with alternative solutions, those apps are free in the App Store. I've paid the $2 to try the iPhone app with Feedbin and so far it works great. The iPhone app even lets me choose which feed service (Google's still there for now) I want to use. Feedbin also has a web-based reader so it should soon be covering all my reading options. Feedbin's subscription management is still a bit clunky, but I'm sure that will improve as their customer base grows. I wouldn't be surprised to see other feed management options appearing either.
With Google out of the market, there's money to be made in the news-reading business and I think we're about to have a number of impressive options. Moving away from free could turn out to be a very good thing.