Gini Dietrich

Not for Free: Why We’ll Pay for Content

By: Gini Dietrich | February 7, 2011 | 
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Yeah. I know. I spend a lot of time reading the blogs at Harvard Business Review. I can’t help it. So much of what they write is so far from reality that it’s great for me to read what they’re thinking in think tanks without any real world application.

They have the university approach – really smart people who get theory, but have never applied it. And I love to read the theory so I can figure out how to apply it, both for us and our clients (and, of course, Project Jack Bauer).

And then, I find something that makes a lot of sense and validates my thinking.

That happened yesterday afternoon when I ran across, “Finding Profit In a World of Free.” A 12-ish minute podcast interview with Saul Berman, vice president and global lead partner for strategy consulting at IBM Global Business Services and author of Not for Free: Revenue Strategies for a New World, explores how and why we’ll pay for customized experiences and services. Now, I haven’t read his book. I’ve only listened to the podcast (and really, only about half of it kept my attention). But I like what he has to say about the controversial topic of paid content.

We’re all trying to figure out how to get paid for our intellectual property, especially when the IP is blog posts and white papers and eBooks and podcasts and videos and white papers.

At the beginning of the year, Mark Schaefer wrote a blog post titled, “Is there really any hope for paid digital content?” In it he cites his own experience with paid content and why he doesn’t pay for it. But he also goes on to use stats that back up why we can, and will, pay for content.

At the time, I disagreed with him (and told him so in a tweet, but just now got back to write a smart comment) and I still do. If we provide something people really want that improves their job performance, they’ll pay for it.

It won’t come as any surprise to you that we’ve begun charging for some of our content. I’d venture to guess that less than one percent of what we pump out is monetized. But we’re still testing different methods of paid content. It’s all customized and extremely timely content.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about gaining respect for yourself and the PR industry. In it, I talked about how to learn and really understand how a company makes money so you can have conversations with the CFO and be invited to the investment table (vs. seen as an expense). Based on the feedback we received on that post – in comments, on Twitter, and via email – we decided that financials should be the topic of our next webinar (Feb. 22, if you’re interested in attending). And we’re charging for it.

Why? Because it takes A LOT of our collective time to put together a webinar (a blog post takes an hour of my time; a webinar takes many hours of all of our time) and because it’s content that is customized to what you want and need in your career growth.

Seems fair, right? We customize a webinar for your experience and you pay to attend (and wait until you see the eBook that’s coming out next week – OMG!).

I might think differently if our other webinars and eBooks had failed miserably, but we’re building a business model around the fact that people do pay for our content. And they will yours too, if you customize the experience for them.

What do you think? Has the free economy screwed us all?

Thanks to Fuel Your Blogging for the image

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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82 Comments on "Not for Free: Why We’ll Pay for Content"

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johnfalchetto
5 years 4 months ago

Interesting how the pendulum is swinging back and forth on this one. Julien Smith, wrote about paying access to blogs last week. Many SM gurus have already monetized their forum’s, and it makes sense.
While I wouldn’t pay for access to FB, I would gladly pay to subscribe to certain blogs. Spinsucks is one of them.

I heard you were planning a KC style tweet campaign for the launch of Jack Bauer?

MaureenB2B
MaureenB2B
5 years 4 months ago

Whoa, Gini! Can’t wait to listen to the IBM podcast. Will come back after I do!

thewhalehunters
thewhalehunters
5 years 4 months ago

It’s very tricky to figure out, but yes, some people will pay for come premium content. I am one of them. I know the time and energy and expertise it takes to build a great webinar, for example, and we can’t really afford to give them all away. Still experimenting with the mix of free and paid. Haven’t got it all figured out, but quite sure there is a mix.

Thanks for your analysis Gini!

dino_dogan
dino_dogan
5 years 4 months ago

Reach. When it comes to making money from your blog/podcast/ebook/whatevs, its ALL about reach. Its not about the quality of product, and its kind of about marketing of the product. But the ultimate in monetization of your digital wares is reach.

That IS the ace in the hole that big bloggers were able to pull when they deployed their paid content. Reach.

faybiz
5 years 4 months ago

Freemium has become the expectation- I want to try it for FREE and then I might pay for it.
look at the big time bloggers who are now switching to paid emails! I’m sure most of it is the same stuff they spewed when they were giving it away for free, but because they are BIG now- they want paid for it.
Eh.

jonbuscall
5 years 4 months ago

I often find that there’s an initial burst of brilliant energy and quality on a paid for premium site but then after a while it falters – often because the team start to look for too much crowd sourced content. That sucks!

That said, my favourite sports blog at the moment is a premium, subscriber only, paid site.

coffeewithjulie
coffeewithjulie
5 years 4 months ago

You’re killin’ me with all these Jack Bauer references … can I get a hint what it’s all about?

bdorman264
bdorman264
5 years 4 months ago

It’s all about value; what are you bringing to the table to help a business increase their profitability and/or reduce their costs. At the end of the day what can you do for them, not you. Once you are there, what is it worth? If you can quantify your value proposition it becomes very easy to ‘charge’ for what you do. Compensation is not a bad thing……….

SteveCongdon
5 years 4 months ago
Mornin’. Great to hear your thinking on this topic, Daddyo! I am less than a year into my SM program and am anxious to learn from others’ successes. Failures, too. Some of my competitors have moved to a pay-only content, but it’s used as a value-add for a larger, more expensive offering; an event, a product, etc. Someone else mentioned reach here. Totally agree. Also think that the rarity of the service matters. If one doesn’t have too many competitors, it would certainly be easier to charge for content. One also wonders what the other factors might be – frequency,… Read more »
coffeewithjulie
coffeewithjulie
5 years 4 months ago

I agree that it’s about value, but it’s also about convenience. People will pay for convenience. I know I do — all the time. With information available freely everywhere, I will pay to have the information delivered to me in a convenient format.

wabbitoid
5 years 4 months ago
If “Content is King” on the ‘net, you’d think that there would be a lot more gainful employment for writers – or, at least, editors. Not so. So much of it is free that most of the offers I get to write for sites are unpaid. I would like to respond to all these kind offers by asking people if they would say to a carpenter, “Oh, you’re good with a hammer, could you build a garage for me for free?” But I try to be kind and simply pick who I write free stuff for very carefully. Will it… Read more »
hackmanj
5 years 4 months ago
I think the best way to earn a living is solving problems, people pay to solve problems. If your content or product solves problems and you’re not earning something of value (new customers, subscriptions, something, supporters, etc) from that you need to ask yourself why. Kudos to you for charging for your webinar too by the way. You give up a tremendous amount of valuable information here for free on Spinsucks that lets people know what your capacity is. You will filter out the people who are really serious and those who are just casually interested by adding that paywall… Read more »
lorirtaylor
lorirtaylor
5 years 4 months ago
Excellent post as usual. Like you I’m all about giving as much value as I can to my readers. However, there is a certain level of engagement where it takes a considerable amount of my time, effort and resources to give the level of content I believe would really be worth your time to read. Most clients on my roster pay anywhere from $500-1000.00 per hour to work with me. Granted it’s a hands on, very personalized engagement easily translated to the bottom line. But many times they ideas I share with my readers, come from the experiences I had… Read more »
FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer
5 years 4 months ago

The heart of the paid content dilemma is not whether people are willing to pay for content, but rather pricing — how much they will pay and how often, subscriptions vs. discrete purchases, etc.

Someone’s got to bell that cat, Ginni. Good luck! 🙂

FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer
5 years 4 months ago

The heart of the paid content dilemma is not whether people are willing to pay for content, but rather pricing — how much they will pay and how often, subscriptions vs. discrete purchases, etc.
Someone’s got to bell that cat, Gini. Good luck! 🙂

TroyCostlow
TroyCostlow
5 years 4 months ago
As long as advertising pays the bills, more eyeballs means more revenue – and the only way to get more eyeballs is to dumb down your material to reach a wider audience. When you’re willing to kill that model and produce content that’s more intelligent than accessible, your audience will shrink and their engagement with you will increase. I completely agree with your post – I pay for a lot of content this way, and I’ll continue to do so. The ‘Some for free, pay for all’ model seems to work remarkably well. That’s what sites like the Economist and… Read more »
lisagerber
lisagerber
5 years 4 months ago

@jonbuscall what specifically makes the sports blog worth paying for? Just curious how we all make our decisions when we hit the paywall. I assume you can’t find the content elsewhere – what else?

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 4 months ago
Totally agree with you Gini!Sharing information in blogs and tweets is a great tool that builds your credibility. When you are offering further information via webinars, meetings, proposals etc, then you’re in the area of what it is we do to pay our bills. Like every product or service in the world, they were developed to meet a need. Customers research, decide on who will help them achieve their own business growth goals and the cycle continues. Webinars share information and upon further review will gain potential business. We’ve been doing it for years, just not on the web but… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@johnfalchetto Oh yeah. I think we’re going to find the most controversial hashtag and use it when we launch. If we can’t find one, we’ll use #proabortion. Too much?

dannybrown makes a good point – he says that blogging platforms aren’t free so why should people expect the content for free? I don’t mind blogging and giving away that content. But that’s because I see it as a means to end. Think of it as business development.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@MaureenB2B The podcast kept my attention for maybe half of it. He’s not, um, a very inspirational interview. Even the woman interviewing him was bored toward the end. But the concept is good! Did you listen?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@thewhalehunters I wonder if this is like getting paid for our time? I had a client say to me last week, “I don’t get this model. Why should I pay more for you than someone else on your team? When we send our CEO out, we don’t charge for his time.” Yes. That’s because you make widgets and you can make more widgets without adding more time. So if you are more likely to pay for content because you create it. But I wonder if people who don’t create content are the ones hitting the freemium drum?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@dino_dogan I agree with that, but I don’t think it’s everything. For instance, we’ve been focused on broadening our reach for nearly two years for the reasons you suggest. But we also have something to share that is valuable (to some) so that helps increase the reach. So when we launch Project Jack Bauer, we’ll have reach AND credibility. Now if I could just figure out how to move Twitter from the number one traffic source to Spin Sucks.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@faybiz Paid emails? Are you serious? I wouldn’t pay for an email. Would you? I’m guessing not, based on your comment.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@jonbuscall And that, my friend, is why we have three values we repeat over and over again and one of them is DON’T GET COMPLACENT. Because, I agree. The moment we get complacent and don’t stay ahead of the trends or risk something by putting our necks out there, we also will falter.

And…I’m curious to your answer to @lisagerber question.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@coffeewithjulie Have you signed up for updates?! We’re not ready to announce, annouce yet, but we’re giving as much information as we can each week. The alpha is finished and we begin beta 1.0 tomorrow!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@bdorman264 You and I are in full agreement. This is all about them. That’s why I always say, “Take the French (the we, we, we) out of your content.”

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@SteveCongdon You cannot call my Daddyo any longer. I thought it was a pet name only to learn you call EVERYONE that. So please come up with my own name.

I half agree on the competitors. Sure it’s easier if you’re first to market, but it’s also easier if you can beat the competition.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@coffeewithjulie Convenience. Yes! I’ll pay for convenience, as well.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@wabbitoid I think the tide is going to shift. When companies really begin to understand their current sales materials aren’t good content, they’ll want to see the change…and they’ll be willing to pay you for it.

timjahn
timjahn
5 years 4 months ago

At the end of the day, it’s the same math. The more popular/respected you are, the more money you’ll make. If I’m well known and people like my stuff, I can charge for it and make enough money to justify the model off a certain percentage of people.

If I’m not quite popular enough, I probably can’t. This is the same model for any medium.

johnfalchetto
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich dannybrown Well you can find free blogging platforms, I think this issue is more one of IP. There will always be some free blogging around as it is a great business development tool. I think where the interaction will have to be compensated at some time. When you have hundreds of comments to respond to everyday, that is some serious work and obviously it’s not compensated for. Unless you consider this is the cost of business development.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 4 months ago
Great post Gini I agree with you 100%. I had an email exchange with one of the VC’s behind Twitter (Think HBR now) I said we should be paying for Twitter. If it is that great and slick (like we do for Apps and Software etc) we will pay. He said no only ad model will work. I really like and admire this person. But felt he was wrong. So movies show for Free? Do we get books for free? Do we go to Baseball games and not pay? Yadayadayada. Make the content or technology great and we will all… Read more »
DannyBrown
5 years 4 months ago

@johnfalchetto @ginidietrich I actually commented over at Julien’s blog post. To me, my blog is free advice; clients get the premium strategy that the blog opens up.

Would I ever charge for access to my blog? No. Would I build services around it that my audience would find interesting and useful? Yes, and that could be premium services.

But paying to read a blog? Meh.

jonbuscall
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @lisagerber I pay for content because it’s unique and not available elsewhere. It’s well written, well researched and is better than anything I can find in mainstream media. In fact, I can’t find this anywhere else.

So many premium services are rubbish. They promise a lot, often with a great squeeze page and first few posts but then just become drivel. I think many keep going because people often can’t be bothered to cancel a PayPal auto pay. The content has to be excellent and spot on.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @coffeewithjulie The Dead Kennedy’s have a funny album called Give me Convenience or Give me Death!

Laura_Kimball
5 years 4 months ago

The discussion about how to get your IP paid for is a huge one (actually a point of debate in my household). Anyway, I like how you approach this subject, especially your disclaimer about what got you thinking about this topic and how you haven’t read the book, but you do have an opinion. Hillarious.

With that said, has the fee economy screwed us? Oh, probably. But the only way to change it is to value your own product — your IP, your own self — and find others (customers) who value it as you do.

Thanks for the ideas, Gini.

Lauren_AnnS
Lauren_AnnS
5 years 4 months ago
There was a segment on NPR about a month ago in which the radio host interviewed the founder or creator of livingsocial (a groupon-like site). The main topic of discussion was debating whether this new trend of groupon and such sites are setting the precedent for discounted merchandise nd the effects it will have on purchasing decisions. My generation, I’m 22, has become used to free material: Facebook, twitter, Myspace, New York Times online, etc. We do pay for services, but the way it’s marketed is key. Where as my parents would buy the daily paper, my generation looks it… Read more »
wabbitoid
5 years 4 months ago
@timjahn Tim, a small caveat to your statement, which I generally agree with. Traffic figures are a well-kept secret on the ‘net, so we do not actually know which blogs are “popular”. Mine, for example, is running around 6k pageviews per week, which I think is pretty respectable – but a lot of those views are from people who DO NOT spend a lot of time on the ‘net chatting about things as they have real jobs and families to raise (and are a bit older, frankly). My “buzz” is quite a bit lower than blgos that have a tiny… Read more »
faybiz
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @faybiz You’ve had to have seen the letter.ly push. Brogan is using it and more are following his footsteps to offer subscriber only content via the emails

GACConsultants
5 years 4 months ago

@dannybrown @johnfalchetto @ginidietrich I like your take on this Danny — your blog reveals your mindset and skill sets — and if you provide consistent value and earn respect from your audience and/or peers, many money making/ business opportunities present themselves.

faybiz
5 years 4 months ago

@dannybrown Whats your take on the letter.ly move by some bloggers to premiumize their content?

DannyBrown
5 years 4 months ago

@GACConsultants @johnfalchetto @ginidietrich Exactly, Mark. I’ve had a nice amount of leads (both in my solo consultancy prior to Bonsai, and since creating Bonsai with troy claus ) from topics and ideas discussed on my blog. And I’m sure that’ll continue to grow, as Troy finds his feet blogging too. You don’t need to sell something to get a customer. 😉

DannyBrown
5 years 4 months ago

@faybiz If that’s what they want to do, fair enough. Personally, I’m not a fan, and some of it encourages a lack of originality. But I guess there must be an audience for it somewhere, so someone will take advantage of that.

EricaAllison
5 years 4 months ago
People will always pay for something that holds real value for them, especially if taking the time to do it, research it, learn it, etc is not perceived as a good use of their time, or will take too long to do ‘well’ on their own. We all like a little something for free. We all give away a little something for free. But we also know when to draw the line and either cross it (to pay for something) or stand behind it (to charge for something). Your webinar (the last one or the upcoming), is an excellent example… Read more »
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[…] have that!” And you have to have it so much, you’re willing to pay for it (cough, see yesterday’s blog post, […]

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[…] recent debate on paying for content brought this point to the forefront of discussions regarding how you should interact with your […]

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@EricaAllison OMG! You ended a sentence in a preposition! LOL!

I agree with you…I hope we’re both right!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@Lauren_AnnS So, let’s say (hypothetically speaking) you have a tool that helps you do your job better and advance in your career more quickly, all with the latest technology and using the trends. Would you be willing to pay for that? Invest in yourself, so to speak?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@Laura_Kimball Honesty suits me, does it not? 🙂 I actually didn’t know there was a book until I listened to the podcast. And, while the topic is fascinating and a point of debate for us too, if the book is as dry as the interviewee, I won’t be reading it. BUT! If you read it, I’ll pay you for the Cliff’s Notes.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@HowieSPM It really gets me that Twitter won’t ask its users how to monetize themselves. I’m with you – I would pay for certain access on Twitter. I wouldn’t pay for the silly conversations I have every day, but I would pay for useage.

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