Or take a look at television operators, such as CBS, which are providing free videos of popular shows.
Should your company think about doing the same? When is there a valid business case to be made for giving your product away?
Trynka Shineman, senior vice president of North American marketing for VistaPrint (NASDAQ: VPRT), thinks it can be a savvy move. After all, her company has been successful in giving away its business cards.
"Make sure you have a clearly defined objective for your offer and a marketing plan to meet that objective," said Shineman. "For example, do you want to generate leads? Referrals? Are you trying to cross-sell existing customers new products or services? Are you trying to retain your customers? For example, if you are trying to generate new customers, make sure you have a plan to convert free trials into purchases – that is, including offers for subsequent purchases with the free product. Getting your product into the hands of a potential customer is only beneficial if you turn that potential customer into a customer."
Or consider Spiceworks. The company develops sophisticated IT management software – and gives it away.
The catch? Spiceworks makes money through advertising.
"We wanted to target the small and medium size business market," said Jay Hallberg, the co-founder and VP of marketing at Spiceworks. "We know it's a huge market. The problem is that it can be difficult to get customers. So by making the product free, we got lots of adoption."
In fact, Spiceworks has a user base of over 120,000 users, which is certainly attractive to various advertisers. The company has deals with Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), McAfee (NYSE: MFE) and Rackspace
"If you plan on building an ad-based model," said Hallberg, "it's important to start placing ads on the site from the start. If not, you may disrupt the user experience."
Hallberg also recommends: "Make sure you monitor the traffic and get details on your users. This is critical for getting sponsors."
Yet again, Spiceworks uses another Google product to help out -- called Google Analytics. And, of course, it's free.
Tom Taulli is the author of various books, including The Complete M&A Handbook and The Edgar Online Guide to Decoding Financial Statements. He also operates DealProfiles.com.