A particular instance of the general statement that there is no such thing as a free lunch is “There is no such thing as a free textbook.”
This line of thinking was provoked by an article titled “Ads Coming to Textbooks” (thanks to Rohit Malik) which reports that a publisher, Freeload Press, is trying to break into the $6 billion annual US textbook market by offering free PDF downloads of books which have embedded ads.
Ads supported free textbooks make sense only in specific instances and these do not include the particular instance of Indian education.
Ads may reduce the price of a “book” (hardcopy or softcopy) to zero but the cost of production and distribution does not disappear — that cost is paid for by firms through advertising spending. But firms don’t spend on advertizing out of altruism; they do so because they expect the target audience of their ads to buy their products, and through increased sales expect to recoup more than the costs of advertising. So if a population has very low spending ability, firms will not spend on advertising aimed at them. Therefore the belief that “free” textbooks can be made available to very poor students based on ad revenues is patently false.
It is an unfortunate fact of this material world that we live in that nothing can be produced without incurring some costs. These costs have to be ultimately paid for–if not by you, then by someone else, if not now, then some other time. No user of the Internet is unaware of hundreds of free services. We use free search engines daily, for instance. If you were to follow the money, you realise for example, that Google hands out freebies because advertisers expect that the consumers of freebies will spend enough on non-freebies at the checkout counters to make it all worthwhile.
So here is word of advice (free, of course, and therefore worth every penny you pay): if your business model depends on providing free services based on advertising revenues, take a reality check to find out if your users have the ability to pay for the goodies that potential advertisers peddle. Don’t expect BMW to sponser ads on a channel which reaches people who can barely afford a bicycle.