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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.

73 comments
NancyM.
NancyM.

I read Mark Schaefer's post “Is there really any hope for paid digital content?” and I thought i was very interesting. Unfortunately, I think that payment for digital content is not possible because it contradicts the nature of the medium itself. Internet is meant to be a shared medium where information is shared without barriers.

hire a java programmer
hire a java programmer

he higher numbers for music and software suggest that attempts to combat piracy have largely been successful and that a shift is underway in the user perspective regarding access to these types of media.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

Great article... I've been back and forth on this for over a week. Might as well jump into the conversation now.

Generally speaking, I think the web is going the way of ad-supported content for videos, blogs, etc... No surprise there. However, you're probably correct that you will be able to build a successful business based on charging for premium PR/social media content.

The difference between what you are doing and where the web is headed is that your premium content appeals to customers who can write off the cost as a business expense. In other words, I'll pay to learn from you if I can write it off, but I will NEVER pay to find out how many hookers were at Charlie Sheen's house last night. I will, however, gladly suffer through the occasional pop-up/banner/pre-roll ad for a Sheenfotainment fix.

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

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 of how someone got the original idea or concept for free..."must learn more about the biz side of things, balance sheets and P&L statements", and then was given the opportunity to really learn something about it in a condensed package for a reasonable fee. Of course, they'll pay for it.

Has the free economy screwed us? No, it's made the consumer more discerning in what they/we will pay for and it challenges the producer to put value-driven content and products 'out there' that will be purchased when offered.

I really like this discussion...it illustrates the new sandbox that we're all playing in. (GASP, I ended that sentence with a preposition!!)

Lauren_AnnS
Lauren_AnnS

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 up online for free at our convenience. Our attention spans aren't that great (or maybe it's because we're constantly processing new mediums and multitasking at a rate that would give my grandmother a heart attack) and the way we see it, we're not going to pay a lot of money for a product/service because in a short amount of time, the next best thing will come along that we will be drawn to. We want the best deals and the latest technology, and we are willing to do our research to determine what the new best thing will be.

lamiki
lamiki

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.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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 pay. We already do!

janbeery
janbeery

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 in person. You present in a forum your audience can understand. KISS!
KBK is presenting actually at an upcoming medical conference. What do we expect? We'll be making business connections, subsequent meetings and business growth opportunities for our organization. So charging for webinars that exude a lot of information and knowledge is in fact your product. Go for it!

TroyCostlow
TroyCostlow

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 the Financial Times do.
A long as the information is relevant, new or timely, and well-reasoned, we'll pay for it.

FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer

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! :)

lorirtaylor
lorirtaylor

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 with them, using their marketing dollars to experiment and test a multitude of marketing ideas. I believe it's about how you ask, when you ask and who you ask. If you are worth it, they will pay. Sometimes giving them a free taste will whet their appetite for me, but if you fill their tummies - then you confuse them with why they pay for this and not for that. It's a careful balance, for sure.

hackmanj
hackmanj

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 and make it a more valuable experience across the board.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

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 work out in the end? I'm always experimenting with what I can charge money for, including a serial novel (so far, not a good result). I think we have to charge what we can, where we can. As long as it's free we can't say that "Content is King", but I'm hoping for a minor Barony here somewhere. I'd at least like to see some nobility in the craft.

My own li'l Kingdom of Baratria is a literary and obscure pirate ref (Jean Lafitte). I write whatever I feel like, hoping the passion and skill will shine through to get me to some paying gigs. Since I'm a terrible businessperson it's all I have (like today's effort on Superbowl Ads and whether they really sell things). In the meantime, we all have to keep tryiing to make a living one way or the other. Go for it, Gini, and make a good packet. Someone has to off of all this ... :-)

coffeewithjulie
coffeewithjulie

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.

SteveCongdon
SteveCongdon

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, size, confidentiality, etc.

bdorman264
bdorman264

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..........

coffeewithjulie
coffeewithjulie

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

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

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.

Todd Lyden
Todd Lyden

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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@John Fitzgerald What?! You have depleted my opinion of you. Won't pay to find out how many hookers were at Charlie Sheen's house? Hrumph.

I think that's the exact point - we won't pay for content until it's customized and becomes an experience. Give me a reason to want to pay for it - it's something I can't get anywhere else.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

I agree with you...I hope we're both right!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@ginidietrich @Lauren_AnnS Trust me us old aged home folks got plenty of discounts and free stuff. Its how those deals are delivered to you or found that is changing. As much as you think technology can help you, it helps stores. What if one store lowers their price, others can see that instantly (they don't have to go visit a store and check pricing). If one raises it, they all can raise it.

Also now a lot of older marketing myths have been debunked so it is possible deals are not as plentiful as before. We have discussed the group buying before with the pro's and con's and so far it seems con to me. Do most businesses want you as a customer if you only come for deals?

I always think when at the Supermarket the prices are fake. Meaning the club card offering me the discount maybe is full price and they just raised the list price on the card to make me think its a deal.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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 moderator

@lamiki 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.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@ginidietrich @HowieG Twitter's refusal to use it's CONVERSATION platform the way we do -- to crowdsource -- in lieu of just shoving ads down our throats is, to use the most intellectual expresssion I can think of at the moment, bunk!

Lots of good stuff here. Gini, I think your best pont is that once you prove your worth as a resource, people are more likely to pay. It's a combo of trust and being hooked. And if anyone has a problem with a company or person trying to monetize their Web presence, why don't they just check out one of the millions of niche bloggers out there working with companies to do the exact same thing.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@HowieG 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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@janbeery BUT. Lots and lots of companies offer webinars for free. Our clients, who make widgets, offer webinars and white papers for free. But that's not their IP. Their IP are the widgets. Our IP is in our brain, therefore it is webinars and white papers. So how do you discern between what people will pay for and what they will not...especially when others are giving it away?

TroyCostlow
TroyCostlow

@ginidietrich Yeah, I infinitely prefer the pay-for-quality model. And I did NOT mean this as a suggestion for you, just a statement that the 'free' model isn't really free - it's just paid via advertisers rather than subscribers, which means subscribers think it's free because they're not stuck with the bill.

"Lady Gaga is so unique...again" can be free because any high school dropout can understand it, but your industry-leading blog about "Applied theory and practice of a specific subset of communications based current trends and an understanding of American corporate history" is less accessible to undereducated people. So the limited volume means you need subscribers to pay. There isn't enough reader-volume for mass-market advertisers to pay your salary.

Spin Sucks doesn't fit the 'free' model. It shouldn't fit the free model. And if you dumb it down until it does, I'll leave & so will a lot of other people.

A smaller & more engaged audience is infinitely more preferable for your style. We'll pay for it. Bait us in with a reasonable amount of free material (check), then charge us for broader access (still waiting).

If your blog - even in its current form - was reasonably priced on kindle subscriptions, I'd be willing to pay for it...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TroyCostlow This just grates my last nerve. Not you, but the idea that we have to dumb down our material to reach a wider audience. I know, I know. I fight that internally too. But it's just not something I can or want to do. I'm OK with my audience shrinking, but engagement increasing. I'd rather that any day. Wouldn't you? Oh...and how's the tax law coming?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@FollowtheLawyer Exactly what we're experimenting with right now - what are people willing to pay? We have a book coming out next week that we've priced at $40 because the content is invaluable and something you can't get anywhere. We'll see if people will pay for it.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

@ginidietrich @lorirtaylor I like that clear, direct pitch, but I wonder if this approach can bite you by de-valuing the online version and perpetuating the problem. If the content presented online is the same but you're not there, is it really worth 90% less?? If so, we have a problem! Or are you suggesting that you get a majority of the value for FAR less cost with the digital version? Who says?

Most content creators are using their digital assets as loss-leaders to get speaking and consulting engagements, much like musicians are giving their recordings away free to sell tickets and t-shirts. You're doing something very different, almost the opposite. What extra value does your $50 webinar provide that the loss-leader version does not? How do you create and explain truly objective business value in your digital (vs in-person) content, not just your subjective perceived value or actual production cost value, that makes taking the time to put in my credit card number a good use of my time and money?

I'm sure you have an answer, but that answer has to be in front of me when I get ready to buy, or I might not.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@lorirtaylor So. Funny. I had this EXACT conversation with a client yesterday..."if you want hands-on, high touch expertise from us, this is how much it costs. If you'd rather not pay it, but attend a webinar, it's $50." I love your analogy about whetting their appetite and filling their tummies...kind of the "why buy the cow when the milk is free" philosophy.

hackmanj
hackmanj

@ginidietrich probably could have said "have the time and will be actively engaged". It almost makes it sound like the people that aren't involved don't want to be involved. That is probably not typical. ;)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@hackmanj It's funn you say that about filtering out those who are serious and those who are not. It's really surprising (and a little hurtful) to see who is not serious. People suck sometimes.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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 moderator

@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 moderator

@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!

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

@ginidietrich @jonbuscall @enterprisecity But you all make a really important point--PEOPLE CAN'T BE BOTHERED. The same energy it take to cancel a Paypal account is required to enter into a new content purchasing decision. I wonder how many potential buyers of content out of 100 end up at the payment screen and say "Meh, maybe after lunch" and then never go back? It's just too easy online to just keep looking, keep surfing.

Funny, with Apps, it feels easier to make the buy. It's one click, a self-contained value proposition, and feels like it's mine after. Hmmmm.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jonbuscall I know you're right about people not wanting to bothering canceling the auto pay. And that sucks. So, like I just said to @enterprisecity , you also have permission to smack me if we become drivel. Because, after all, we won't be living our #1 value.

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

@ginidietrich @deleted_6629_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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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 @deleted_6629_lisagerber question.

Todd Lyden
Todd Lyden

@ginidietrich I'm just not sure on the model altogether- basically for the most part it's an expert cashing in on their name. I suppose some will do it, but after they have been giving it away for free and with the alternatives like you mention- isn't it just evil cherrypicking?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@faybiz Oh flipping A. I knew he was charging for blog ideas. You have to hand it to the man for trying new things and staying ahead, but where's the focus? I don't know if this model works. The ones that are charging (that are listed on letter.ly) are just aggregates of other content. I can get that from @jaybaer , SmartBrief and others...for free.

Todd Lyden
Todd Lyden

@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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

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