I believe in paying for quality content, and creating content worth paying for. My customers seem to agree! For the past four years, I’ve run a small e-press in a niche nonfiction subject, and I’ve been profitable since I launched.
As a buyer of digital products, though, I realize that there is a huge trust barrier. Free sampling isn’t just a good idea; it’s usually necessary for customers to feel good about their decision to buy from you. My micropress has three books out, and one of them is totally free so that customers can experience what my brand stands for. I’ve essentially been following Anderson’s model, which isn’t new at all, but an old workhorse that all direct marketers know about.
After reading Anderson’s book, a lot of people — writers and publishers especially — have the reaction of “Eek, all content is going to be free and no writers/artists/musicians will be paid for their work, and everyone will have to pick up a jackhammer or wait tables to pay the bills, so no quality work will get put out, and it will be the Dark Ages Of Entertainment, and we’ll all have to resort to crappy high school YouTube videos to get our laughs.”
Then, when Seth Godin backed him up, they wailed, “But I thought this guy was supposed to be smart and help us sell stuff, not give it away for free!”
But they didn’t read his reaction closely enough. Seth Godin said that people will pay for content:
People will pay for content if it is so unique they can’t get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people.
That’s art (or entertainment)! It is so unique that only the artist can create it. And being associated with a tribe? That’s just being a good, meaningful brand. No business should be only content; it should stand for something, whether the business is a single blogger or an international manufacturer.
Seth also said that people won’t pay for content if it’s the same old stuff as everyone else:
People will not pay for by-the-book rewrites of news that belongs to all of us. People will not pay for yesterday’s news, driven to our house, delivered a day late, static, without connection or comments or relevance. Why should we? A good book review on Amazon is more reliable and easier to find than a paid-for professional review that used to run in your local newspaper, isn’t it?
Again, I think he’s right. Any blogger can report the news, give a writeup, or provide a bunch of outbound links. That is truly commodity content, and everyone can have access to the raw source and create “content” from it. As both a reader and a “content provider,” I agree that it is certainly not enough value to exchange money for.
To me, the problem is that Seth Godin and Chris Anderson are putting a lot of emphasis on something that is just standard direct marketing wisdom, so everyone starts to wonder if there’s more to it than that. I don’t think there is, digital world or not.