BoingBoing points to a talk which Chris Anderson recently gave at Nokia. Chris' next book focuses on the notion of zero priced products and services: Free. While Chris gives a good talk (as one should expect), I feel that he is missing out a large aspect of economics which needs to be considered - even more so - when considering the zero price: externalities.
There are two aspects here. Firstly, there is always someone, somewhere making money. While it is apparently 'free' to read Wikipedia, every time you go there, someone makes money. The computer manufacturer? The bandwidth provider? Google via the ads in their search engine? The sites which the Wikipedia article links to? If someone is making money, someone else is paying. Guess who that person is.
Secondly, there are aspects of cost which are not clearly stated in direct monetary terms, even through the chain of third parties not involved directly in the transaction. We get our biodiesel delivered by a vehicle which may well have been constructed from a vendor using Brazilian rain forest in the creation of the metal products used in the manufacturing process. Chris mentions the impact of 'free' electricity: irrigation for vast desolations which could then be used to produce biodiesel. He doesn't mention the cost of exhausting those areas of land via the use of single crops, the environmental impact of the transportation of the fuel (in terms of vehicle manufacture, roads and fuel).
Chris states that Google introduced a gigabyte of free mail storage because they realised they could make money with that number. I'm not aware that Google is making money with GMail (of interest). In fact, there is another motivation behind introducing larger free web mail. Firstly, each user does not get the claimed amount of storage. Most will use far less, so it is a perception that is being marketed. If all GMail users uploaded a gigabyte of data the system would go down. Secondly, GMail is not winning in web mail, but due to the brand power Google has forced its competitors (most noticeably Yahoo! and Microsoft) to offer the same storage capacity for their users which are orders of magnitude more numerous.
Free-to-me is not the same as Free. Even Free-to-me is not Free-to-me. Ever tried to read Wikipedia without paying for electricity? Without paying for coffee? When you pick up all the 'free' cosmetics from your hotel room you are increasing the cost to all hotel guests.
In the example of airlines, what appears to be free (a 10 euro ticket) is not - it costs you your attention where upsell will occur (ever been pushed a visa card on an airline?).
I'm excited to see what Chris is going to put in his next book. I'm hoping that he will approach the topic in terms of the complete ecology implicit in every transaction rather than simply in terms of the cost to the end user as they reach for their wallet.