DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work for a business magazine where we also research and sell data reports on the subjects we cover. As you can imagine, if you follow the general direction of journalism these days, this is actually where we make a lot of our income.
The data is legitimate, informative and useful to a lot of people in our field. Yet sometimes, when people are referred to us as a good source of information, they act surprised and even indignant that we charge for our reports. A few have asked me outright, “Couldn’t you just send it to me?”
Do they realize they’ve just asked to have our product for free? Would they walk into a clothing or electronics store and say, “Hi there, I’d rather not pay for this, so how about if I just take it?” This seems so obvious, and their presumption so rude, that I don’t even know what to say without turning off a potential customer.
Incidentally, most do end up buying the data, which just goes to show that even the people who want freebies agree it has value. Is there some way to drive this point home without being rude?
GENTLE READER: There is, but it will involve first recognizing that your potential customer may not be rude, but legitimately confused. Even major news outlets have, until recently, made some or all of their content available at no cost to the user; broadcast television has done so since its inception; and every doctor grits his teeth before the medical questions he knows Uncle George will pester him with at Christmas dinner.
No one would dispute your point -- that businesses need to make money to survive -- and you surely would not dispute that it is nicer to receive something for free than to pay. Miss Manners recommends responding with a disarming apology, followed by an explanation that even you are sometimes confused at how your business has been evolving. And since your would-be client has asked you a business question, you may -- within reason -- consider this an invitation to enter into a description of the merits of the product and the reasonableness of the price.