The Problem With Free Content

Free content is a pain. Especially for business. Actually it is not a pain but an issue. What do you put online for free and what do you sell?

The Internet wasn’t supposed to be a selling medium, just a quick communication one. Selling online is actually just quicker.

What I have started to figure out is that:

– Adding pages and pages of content does very little (unless you want to Adsense, but then you have to SEO, which I hate and you have to keep up with it to make it long term profitable). There are some websites online that churn out pages and page of content, hundreds a week and they are rarely at the top of the search engines.

– Paying for content causes a huge issue. The Times tried out a micropayment system where you pay a very minimal amount to read the information. For 20c their traffic dropped 80%.

Seth Godin discussed that authors do not have the right to ask for payment. Now some people have argued that Seth is stating that authors shouldn’t be paid. But I don’t think that is what he is saying at all.

What he is stating is that trends are appearing where “free content” is coming back, actually it might not have gone anywhere.

Free is a big driving force for a business model that has been set up to promote free content. If however your business model has been set up with a paid content in mind then going to free is going to be difficult because everything you have done is based upon paid, and more than likely you need a certain amount of money to keep that business running.

Online you can not guarantee anything because there is free content all around and just because you release a book, no one really cares.

So when The Times started to offer payments for content they are going against strong online users who probably already have a go-to news source, which was probably The Times online.

Also people didn’t want to take the time out and pay (which can be a laborious task) 20c to read something (they lost 80% of their traffic).

Sure we can go advert based and many websites do that. But the problem with that is that it is too inconsistent, especially with Adsense. And many websites would not want to send someone to a potential competitor website.

You could syndicate your work.

You could negotiate with advertisers directly.

You could start up a following, which is what Seth seems to be directing people to. If The Times had a following then they could have a subscription to their Internet site, a regular newsletter, The Times movies/ documentaries, The Times info books.

By going multimedia The Times might bring back some of the revenue that they lost through their offline papers. If they had a free mailing list then they could give away content for free.

But instead they clearly saw what was going on and just followed everyone else. Creating a website and putting free content on there…and getting nothing back.

Seth gives away free content through his blog, but his blog also has all the ways possible to get you to listen to his message. He has a Tribe because of his free content which then he strives darn hard to get into a “communication” mode through email, RSS etc.

Seth then publishes a book now and then- which gives back revenue. He also does speaking engagements- which brings back revenue. And then it is cyclical. Those listeners and readers go to the blog, subscribe, buy more product, spread the word and listen more.

You see, publishing crap loads of free content online does work as long as it is part of a much larger system. Technically you are preselling for something. The Times publishes free stuff online with no specific goal. Go to it here. The website looks like it should be free, there is so much content. Go to an article…and then BAM…you are hit with a subscription notice.

Did I subscribe?


Did I click away?


A random amount of news that I am browsing is not worthy of money I am afraid to say. In that way, for me, the model that The Time uses is still broken (unless they are aiming at journalists)

There are subscription buttons everywhere, but I do not know what I get if I subscribe, apart from spending out $4/ week…which is a lot.

Free subscription with some cool The Times only stuff? Maybe. But I am not a Times reader…I am an Internet surfer…one who will find free content. So The Times has pushed me away.

But this is not The Times bashing.

It is all author bashing :)

Just because you have an item for sale doesn’t mean that people are going to buy it.

I detail this quite clearly in my Amazon Ranking Book

Most of the authors on Amazon have a website that talks about their Amazon experience. Not their book.

So if you want to attract science fiction readers, what do you do?

Obviously you talk about science fiction and write pages on science fiction, discuss science fiction etc.

This is not what happens.

There are plenty of people out there looking for science fiction books, not authors, yet the authors of these books do little in the way of attracting these free content searchers.

Yet they seem to complain about why Amazon doesn’t do this, or why they are ranking quite poorly. The idea of giving away their book is against them, yet they will not give any free content away in the form of science fiction discussion.

They just talk on the forums, or be interviewed by a science fiction website…and that is about it. They do not collect email addresses (only from people interested in Amazon and not their core subject) and Amazon certainly doesn’t give email addresses away.

So in this respect authors should be doing something for free…they should expect people just to buy their book.

There has to be communication.

There has to be respect and trust.

There has to be a business model in there somewhere that builds upon a free content model.


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