“Pay for” Content is Serious Business

Pay Here And I'm not talking about pay walls, or paying for news. Instead, I'd like you to consider initiatives such as what Taylor Davidson has been doing with his premium newsletter. He charges for it, you pay for it.

Yet, it's not about the money. It's about taking the exchange seriously.

I should know. I gave away thousands of hours of free business consulting when I built the social network associated with Fast Company magazine over 8 years.

All 100+ events and discussions were free to attend thanks to the generosity of sponsoring business schools — most of them in Philadelphia contributed, although Villanova University gets kudos for giving the most.

The free part meant that it was a struggle to get people to honor their RSVP commitments.

In some cases, it precluded me from getting speakers who wanted a guaranteed minimum attendance. And eventually it led to me abandoning the effort before my own credibility with venues, food sponsors, and speakers would be impacted.

So I like what Taylor is doing, making the commitment go both ways.

Today, I would have a completely different approach to building the community. We also didn't have Facebook, Twitter, and many other emerging tools we use daily.  That was a great learning experience for social behavioral patterns.

That's also how I got to the 10,000 hours in using content to get the right people in the room. Just like Italians use food as an excuse to be social.

Pay for content

It doesn't have to be a newsletter. It could be a high value Webinar training series, manuals that help you maximize or double your productivity using a certain product, or become a power user of something, analysis, special or deeper research, beyond the free sample.

You get the idea. Businesses have been doing that profitably already. Analysts, consultants, think tanks, and so on. Think about what knowledge and insights *you* bring to the conversation from experience — from doing what you do with other customers, or over time.

What have you learned? You would give that information in a briefing, and often not get the same visibility or rapport with your own base. Go direct.

Another great example is what Chris Guillebeau is doing with the Unconventional Guides [affiliate link]. Tons of value from his experience that can save you serious money for travel, get you on your "pay for" way as an artist, and get you going as an entrepreneur.

Last week, I talked about content as business asset from the demand creation strategy angle. Incidentally, I got a couple of emails from people who were looking for advice on how to maximize their earnings off their sites.

Use the comment form to engage with the community and further the discussion. Take advantage of this free resource for questions, and your take on topics. All this great content here is free — 1,475 posts.  Anything else is called billable work. Simonides of Keos had the right technique to say that.

I look forward to seeing those of you who will be at Confab2011 next week.


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0 responses to ““Pay for” Content is Serious Business”

  1. Adding to the discussion, and taking the lazy way out by quoting Jason Fried, in Inc. (http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110301/making-money-small-business-advice-from-jason-fried.html)
    “The lesson: People are happy to pay for things that work well. Never be afraid to put a price on something. If you pour your heart into something and make it great, sell it. For real money. Even if there are free options, even if the market is flooded with free. People will pay for things they love.
    … After all, paying for something is one of the most intimate things that can occur between two people. One person is offering something for sale, and the other person is spending hard-earned cash to buy it. Both have worked hard to be able to offer the other something he or she wants. That’s trust—and, dare I say, intimacy. For customers, paying for something sets a high expectation.
    When you put a price on something, you get really honest feedback from customers. When entrepreneurs ask me how to get customers to tell us what they really think, I respond with two words: Charge them. They’ll tell you what they think, demand excellence, and take the product seriously in a way they never would if they were just using it for free.”
    That’s a long quote, but it’s well worth reading the rest of the article.

  2. Re: “The free part meant that it was a struggle to get people to honor their RSVP commitments.”
    I don’t disagree with you here. In the real estate industry, there’s a movement called REBarCamp. It’s a Barcamp, except well, it’s specific to the real estate industry. Keeping with the nature of traditional Barcamps, attendance is free of course but there’s always a high percentage drop-out rate from the people who initially register.
    Why? Because there’s no commitment. The sentiment is: “Oh well, it didn’t cost me anything.”
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with premium content. If anything, it raises expectations. It says that you have a commitment to each other as both a reader and a writer (to do the work).

  3. Asking money for something that you create has always been a problem for most creative types. The Internet has only made it a bigger problem.
    As Valeria says, it doesn’t just have to be a newsletter. I’m working with a group of professionals in the movie/TV business and we’re raising funds to help cover the costs of an online web series that we’re making. For as little as $10 someone can support a vision of making the series. It’s costing us tens of thousands of dollars to make the episodes for “Divine” but in addition to trying to make a show with movie-level production values, we’re also trying to show that this kind of business model can work. But, as you all know, it’s a battle in itself to educate the masses about placing value on something that will be given away for free on a video site.
    Check our Kickstarter fundraising page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1194035957/divine-the-series
    Even with the struggles to find a way to make quality online content pay for itself, it’s a blast to work in this medium.

  4. which is all the more interesting that so many conference organizers continue to expect speakers to cover expenses — or front the funds — and donate their time when they make money off the event…
    Thank you for sharing the link, Taylor. I had read the article. I’m sure many will find it enlightening.

  5. and I struggled for years with the ideas that not charging was a way to help people in need. Especially in lean economic times. It was one way I could give back to the community. And people were more than happy to take.

  6. for years, the living I was making with my day job supported all kinds of activities that benefited the community. The hard part with asking for donations or funds is to connect that with a vision and break through the noise/fatigue of so many others asking. The gratifying part is seeing a project to its completion and evolution and knowing you had a role in making it happen.

  7. First it was paying for side products, or anything else to monetize your exposure (speeches, press, e-books, etc), and now there is a proliferation of paid newsletters (letterly.net). I launched my paid blog about a month ago and think I am the first blog by an individual author that charges for quality content (not a newsletter or e-book or member section). I don’t think everyone should charge, but with the devolution of content, it will be interesting to see how paid content evolves.

  8. Valeria, I am happy to see your focus here. I just wrote a post on the “ROI of Content Marketing” because I know that’s going to be the next demand from corporations.
    I don’t think content is taken seriously yet (as a business driver), although folks like Ann Handley, CC Chapman, Joe Pulizzi, John Blossom and you (of course) are working diligently to create its rightful place within marketing, communications, PR, etc.
    Content is not easy to create. It’s time consuming and needs to be relevant, timely, etc. to be effective. Planning and strategy are key. And as we know, marketers are doing a bang up job with long-term strategy and customer relationships.
    It’s amazing to me how “free” is the currency of the social media marketplace (for one) and yet there is so little respect or ROI for it. (Actually I am not amazed. People always want something for nothing.)
    Taylor said it much more eloquently, but here are my thoughts.
    “Pay for” content does a few things…
    1) It separates the serious from the players
    2) It creates attention & focus (because people want their money’s worth — which is *their* part of the bargain to uphold)
    3) It creates ROI
    That said, I don’t think we should confuse “pay for” content with “gated” content. I would rather pay cash for content (with no other strings attached) then pay the cost of giving away my email address only to be accosted by sales and business development people.
    Beth Harte

  9. excellent point about keeping gated and “pay for” separated. I attempted to show the difference with the examples in the post. The reason why both Taylor’s and Chris’ work appeal and convert is that they are high value and totally opt-in as part of a larger content strategy that supports the community and listens to it.

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