When investing in digital signage, one of the first decisions businesses must make is whether they want to use a free or subscription platform. Each has its advantages and drawbacks, and there’s no one perfect solution that fits all companies. Here’s a look at some of the differences between free and subscription digital signage.

Like a Volkswagen, Free Digital Signage Works

Free digital signage is like a Volkswagen. A VW doesn’t have the newest features that a true luxury car has, but it gets you where you need to go. It’s functional, and so are many of the free and freemium programs available. They work, but they don’t have all the features that subscription platform options offer.

Most free digital signage solutions have the basic features that a digital signage project needs. They can show static images, slideshows, videos, text tickers and manually compiled event listings. Some also include a calendar, clock, and even weather.

The limitations of free solutions are in customization and scalability. A free solution is difficult, if not impossible to customize to meet unique client needs. They may also not be easy to scale as communication demands increase. Aftermarket upgrades are an expensive alternative. The cost of plug-ins and apps quickly adds up, and they create potential compatibility issues. They also can make a sign look disjointed if lots of apps from different developers are used.

Of course, the main advantage of choosing a free solution is that your business doesn’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee. For businesses that have limited capital and tight cash flows, this can be a significant factor. (The analogy with Volkswagen breaks down here a little. Be sure to tell us if you know of a place to get free VWs.)

Like a Tesla, Subscription Digital Signage Has the Latest Features

Subscription-based digital signage solutions are akin to Tesla. They cost more, which is the biggest downside of these platforms, but they also include many more features.

To start off, the top paid platforms include cloud connectivity, which lets you:

  • integrate with social media (e.g. with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest)
  • easily upload from photo-sharing sites (e.g. Picassa and Flickr)
  • stream from video sites (e.g. YouTube and Vimeo)
  • show live RSS and MRSS feed updates
  • automatically pull event lists from websites
  • show content from any URL
  • use QR codes to extend your marketing to people’s mobile devices
  • display live traffic and weather information

In short, paid solutions have more capabilities. They can display content from anywhere online, and they support more kinds of files. They simply have more powerful content creation and management options.

Subscription solutions also have advantages on the back-end. Companies make installation as easy as possible, and the best ones have customer service representatives ready to help you should you ever have a question.

Decide Based On Your Business Resources and Needs

As mentioned, there isn’t any one digital signage solution that’s right for every company. Whether a free or subscription platform is more suited for your business will depend on your business’ resources and needs.

The Tesla and Volkswagen of Digital Signage - Quote

As you weigh the two options, here are some factors to consider:

First, consider your company’s financial capital. If your company has the financial resources to pay for a subscription service, you’ll be able to find a solution that works well and has all the features you need. If your company is just starting up and tight on cash, you may want to investigate the free options available.

Many companies that have a little financial capital invest in a subscription service that has all the features they want, but they use a free platform for their content creation. Google Docs, for example, is an especially popular content creation choice among companies that want the features of a paid solution but don’t have a ton of money to invest in content.

Second, consider how much time your company has to invest. Paid solutions are much easier to set up, learn and use than free versions. If you select a free version, be prepared to spend time initially reading help files, and then to go through forums if you ever need to troubleshoot a problem. If you have labor available but little capital, this may be a viable solution until your business grows. For some, though, the time is worth more than the money a paid solution costs.

Most importantly, consider how your company will use the digital signage. Specifically, think about what you want the platform to do, and what features that requires. If your company just wants to display a static image that rarely changes, a free solution may be easy to set up, and you won’t have to do anything to it too often. If you plan on using digital signage in multiple ways or changing it frequently, the convenience that paid solutions offer may be more important.

Find the Right Digital Signage for You

The digital signage solution you choose will be a marketing force for your company for some time to come. Think carefully about what your company has to invest and what it needs a signage solution to do. Some companies need a VW, while others need a Tesla. If you have any questions about free and paid subscriptions, feel free to give us a call. We’d be happy to talk with you about both types of platforms.