To Free or Not to Free.

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Plaxo, an online address book, started out as a free service and was pretty amazing.  As with most SaaS utilities, it had a lot of other features and functions, calling itself a social network, but what made it cool and famous was address book synching. The company recognized  many people had multiple address books on multiple devices (business and consumer) and getting those addresses from one to the other was a pain.  A cut and paste pain.  With a push of a button, Plaxo could capture and store in the cloud your email addresses and contact list just like magic, synching them with Outlook and/or Mac address books. The app hits 20 million users before being bought by Comcast for an undisclosed sum. Can you say exit strategy? It was the shizz back in 2007.

In June 2009 the synching of address books with Outlook became a premium service. The moment of truth. Comcast said it needed the revenue to build out new features. Oy. And alas, as neat as Plaxo was, it stopped using me so I stopped using it.  If it got to the point where I couldn’t manage anymore, I’d have re-upped; but Microsoft had made importing and exporting addresses more usable and I (and the market) was on to newer things.

The New York Times faces a similar dilemma on March 28th when its digital content moves to a subscription model.  The good news for them is they’re not a utility, though some may debate that.  A NYT reader who moves to Charlotte, NC and reads the Observer will not debate it.  The Times content is unique and worth the money.

Plaxo, in my mind, needed to start out as a paid service. Hell, even at $3.00 a year. When you condition a market to think a product is free (Google NeXusOne are you listening) it is hard to come back.  This is the venture capital dilemma. This is the missing P in the market 4Ps. Buh-bye Plaxo. Peace.