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The business model I'm referring to is quite common nowadays: SAAS businesses offer free access to their product or service without any barriers, except for limits on usage. Once they have amassed a large user base, they abruptly close off access to the free version, eliminating the free trial option entirely. Examples of companies following this model include Midjourney, Kaiber, and potentially Figma in the near future.

It's important to note that this model differs from freemium, as freemium continues to offer a free version alongside premium options. It's also distinct from a timed demo (or trialware), which typically imposes time restrictions and provides users with a clear countdown. Instead, what I'm describing involves an unknown duration of free access that is suddenly and unexpectedly terminated or given minimal warning.

I have seen it before but can't remember where and Google is not helping (maybe not using the right search terms). The most similar name I have found is "Free-to-Paid Conversion Model", but it's not that, it was another name.

Additionally, I'm curious about the cognitive mechanism that plays a role in users accepting it in a significant proportion. I understand that it involves the Reward System, but I'm interested in knowing the exact specific mechanism among the various options of the Reward System.

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    While interesting, I think this is more a marketing question than a UX-specific issue. I’m voting to close it.
    – Danielillo
    Jun 21, 2023 at 18:47
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    I think cognitive and behavioral psychology questions are on topic here, hence the tags. Furthermore, it's for an article I'm writing for a UX website
    – Devin
    Jun 21, 2023 at 20:23

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I haven't come across a term for an unexpected, unannounced conversion of a product from free to paid. It seems that companies generally do this under some form of keep-the-lights-on duress.

Some adjacent concepts that might lead to finding this term include:

  • Forced continuity, where a user signs up for a free level of a product and suddenly starts experiencing charges without expectation or notice. This seems to apply as a rolling deceptive pricing practice (each customer receives first charge after 90 days) vs. a big-bang, everyone-on-the-platform-gets-charged event.
  • Smoke testing, where a business tests product market viability by measuring interest through a task that customers perform that demonstrates interest, such as clicking a CTA button, or signing up. But that doesn't generally cover fully-baked products being used over time.
  • Walled gardens, where customers sign up for an (often free) platform that becomes difficult to leave later (Facebook, Apple/Google photos), so they're pressured into staying with whatever pricing changes are introduced. This concept isn't specific to pricing, though.

As for the cognitive system that leads users to accept this, I've heard it called the Reciprocity Principle.

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