When Free Becomes Free For All – 5 Reasons Free Is Hurting Us All

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My post on OPENForum this week sparked somewhat heated debate, so I thought I would continue this conversation here. (The entire post in question can be read below)

What I’m suggesting mostly is that it’s not that giving away free content or hosting free online seminars is a bad thing. I do it and expect that I will continue to do it as a path to gain new followers and build trust in my expertise.

It’s the free for all mindset that has developed around content and tools that threatens the viability this permission based marketing that worries me. As I outline below, this practice has already created an environment that may actually be hurting the seeker of quality information more than the spreader of quality information.

I’ve already seen a growing desire in those that want information to be worth paying for. The trend towards tiered levels of paid content will continue to escalate and the ability to foster community around your content will be the most important measure of value.

I don’t know – what do you think?

5 Reasons Free Is Hurting Us All

The following originally appeared on American Express OPENForum.

We’ve swung so far over to the “information wants to be free” thinking that I believe it’s presenting a challenge for businesses and content consumers and the Web in general.

My take is that information wants to be worth paying for, and below are five reasons why free is hurting us all.

1. No accountability

People have become so used to signing up for things with no cost that it’s created an environment of no accountability. Show-up rates for solid free events hover around 25 percent to 30 percent.

This isn’t a reflection on the quality of the content; it’s a symptom of a much greater problem. With no commitment there is no accountability–and that includes a commitment to continued learning.

2. Eroded value

When content is consistently given away it loses its value–not only for the producer, but also in the eyes of the content consumer. How good can something that’s free really be?

This lumps thoroughly researched, well-presented, useful content in with shoddily veiled pitch fests.

3. Lowered expectations

When there is no commitment, there is little to lose. I think this creates an atmosphere where content producers can simply slap something together with little value because, “What are they going to do, ask for a refund?”

Of course, the flip side is true as well–audiences have become pleasantly surprised when they actually get value from time spent reading or viewing.

4. Blocked revenue

One of the best ways to build a business that has marketable value is to develop multiple streams of residual income that a potential business buyer can view as a valuable asset.

When the expectation is that all of your content, speaking and presenting will be made available at no fee, your business’ greatest potential asset is cut off.

5. Community buster

Here’s the ironic thing: When people are invited into a community where everything is free, there’s actually less chance of building a strong community. Community builds when there is value.

When you try to build a community by allowing anyone and everyone to submit free content, you’ll soon discover engagement becomes non-existent.

When community members respect the value of the content enough to pay for it, they are invested in keeping the engagement at the highest level.

As an industry, content producers need to find ways to recapture the value in their content, discover the proper way to package it, build multiple streams of residual income with membership communities and we’ll all be better for it.



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