In the “free” society we’ve become since embracing the internet where we demand free access to everything in the universe, there’s one thing that really stops us in our tracks. It’s when a charge is suddenly slapped on something we used to get for free.
How dare they? We are now expected to – gasp – pay for something that used to be free? What’s going on? Let me jog your memory back to when stores started charging customers for the plastic bags they needed for their shopping. We were asked to pay 10c-20c for biodegradable bags at the checkout. OK, it’s not particularly expensive. And yes, you could bring your own bags and avoid the extra charge. But it meant we were now paying for something that used to be free.
That got me thinking about other stuff that used to be free and still should be free, in my opinion.
Online newspaper sites
Remember when pretty much all content online was free? It was a golden age. Well, not for publishers, obviously, print has been dropping off ever since. But readers became used to the idea that they could read anything online for nothing. Yet now many papers around the country ask readers to subscribe if they want to access some or all of the articles. It’s probably fair, it’s just not… free.
Snacks on airlines
Okay, not true of every airline, but do you remember the days when you’d get a bag of peanuts or tiny salty triangular crisps and a drink just for being on the flight? Or a meal? While some flights do include food these days, it’s becoming increasingly common to pay for any snacks you want to eat in the sky.
Water in restaurants
If you’re in a restaurant and you want a glass of water, you now have to specify tap water. Otherwise you could find yourself being billed for a tiny glass bottle of mineral water. Some restaurants even have water menus, at which point most of us would feel pretty out of our depth!
Restaurants make a lot of money selling wine, and having every customer come in with their own bottle of wine instead of buying it at the restaurant could force some businesses to close their doors. No one wants that. But no one wants to be charged a corkage fee for the simple task of opening a wine bottle, either. How to get it free? Cheap or free corkage restaurants can be found on such websites as Yelp, where it’s pointed out that such restaurants may not have a liquor license and that they could start charging for corkage in the future when they do. Call ahead to see if it’s still free.
When you buy a pie or a burger you expect a napkin, a sachet of salt and a little packet of tomato sauce to be included. When you buy some toast in a café, you expect the marmalade to come with it. Yet increasingly, cafes and restaurants are charging for these basic condiments. This is un-Australian. In the past, they’d just have handed it to you. Fair suck of the sauce bottle.
Lots of us are infuriated with the notion that we have to pay banks to store money that belongs to us. It’s still possible to bank for free by looking out for savings accounts and transaction accounts that don’t charge monthly fees. There is also the option of going for ‘packaged accounts’ offering a range of commonly-used accounts and credit cards. These do charge a monthly fee for their services but some can be very good value, especially if you use all the extras.
Most ATMs are owned by banks and remain free but sometimes, especially if you’re miles from any other option and can’t use a card, the only available machine will charge you $2.50. Bah.
It used to be that if you bought a product or item, you expected the company selling it to you to cover their own overheads. But, as anyone who has recently bought a ticket to anything in the last 10 years will have realised, that’s apparently not true for the entertainment sector. These days it’s routine to charge an admin fee (also called “service/delivery” fee) of around $6.50 for tickets you have to print out yourself, or $8.90 if you want the tickets mailed to you (that’ll be more expensive now, with Australia Post upping its charges). And then there’s the credit card surcharge. Plus, if you go to the movies, you get slugged a fee for booking your ticket online, when there is no such fee for walk-up customers. Once upon a time, the company valued your business but now we do all the work and get charged for it!
When you want to find a phone number, calling (in my case) Telstra for any sort of directory assistance can be costly. Sure the service is good but the bill tells me I pay $1 plus the cost of the call every time I use the service. I think Telstra makes enough money out of me already. Calling 1234, or directory assistance, should be a free service but it’s become one of the many small charges that phone companies have to throw at customers. You might not notice it on your phone bill, but keep an eye out for “directory assistance” or “other” charges. I realise there’s a White Pages app you can download, or even consult good old Google but I haven’t done this yet because I like whingeing.
Yep, there’s “free” and there’s “free”. On a global scale, it’s free trade agreements and freedom of the press that are not free at all. But at the local level, it’s the small things that really grate. In my opinion, some things should remain free, blissfully immune to “monetization”. Amen.