Those in the entertainment industries would have people believe that it’s impossible to compete with ‘free’, that if someone offers something for nothing then charging a fee for the same product becomes hugely difficult. But for years companies have made a business out of doing just that, selling access to otherwise free file-sharing software. However, with little to no explanation, one of the market leaders has suddenly shut down, cutting off funding to many file-sharing related sites.
Upon double-clicking the familiar white and green ‘micro’ icon, millions of users of the massively popular uTorrent client are greeted by a now-familiar message.
“This program is freeware,” says the notice. “If you paid for it you have been scammed.” uTorrent is indeed freeware, but over the years untold thousands of people new to file-sharing have handed over money to companies selling this otherwise free software. So why do people fall for it?
The practice has been going on for many years and has taken on quite a few shapes during that time, but in basic terms this is how it works. People turn up at a flashy looking site which offers “Free Downloads! Free Music! Free Movies!” and after clicking through various links they discover that a “membership” is on offer.
However, after signing up for a few dollars (ostensibly for access to the free media) users find themselves directed to downloads of software like uTorrent or, as was the case for many years, apps like LimeWire, Shareaza, BearShare, WarezP2P and Soulseek. Many customers also found themselves the proud owner of dubious ‘anti-spyware’ software.
Once people discover they have bought freeware, they tend to shout loudly about being scammed. Indeed, in the early days there could have been little doubt that was the case, but in more recent times these companies have become more sophisticated with their offerings, often portraying the charge they make as being not for the file-sharing app itself, but for subsequent customer support or ‘training’. Many potential file-sharers, it seems, don’t read the small print.
For YottaCash – one of the biggest companies in this market – these relatively ignorant file-sharing ‘n00bs’ have been the source of significant amounts of money over the years. YottaCash has been running much of its business through affiliate programs and, since it likes to attract file-sharers, what better place to find them than on file-sharing sites and forums?
As a result, many genuine file-sharing sites collected good income from their affiliation with YottaCash, and vice-versa. As can be seen from this screenshot from the archive of the YottaCash website, converting a single user to a sale could yield very decent revenue.
But for the owners of YottaCash and their affiliates, all ‘good’ things come to an end.
“We have taken the important and unfortunate business decision to shut down our services and DISCONTINUE ALL related products and affiliate programs,” began the announcement from YottaCash last week.
“We are unable to continue offering the level of service that our customers are expecting and it has become impossible to verify all the links and promises posted by our affiliate traffic sites.”
An additional part of the announcement, which appears to have since been removed, read as follows:
“Recent events, changes as well as challenges in the online landscape are forcing us to take this drastic & regrettable decision.”
No further explanation for the sudden closure has been offered by YottaCash in public or in private but it’s hard to come to a conclusion that selling free products suddenly became an unprofitable business in itself. Other factors are at play here but what exactly remains to be seen.
It will be interesting to see how the other players in the market react and adapt as they quickly (and probably very easily) take up the slack. But are there people left on the Internet these days who are incapable of using the wisdom of Google before handing over cash to companies like this in future?
Yes, of course there are. Absolutely millions of them.