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

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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