Information Wants for Nothing: Free Content is a Killer
You started your dream job twenty years ago. Over the years you’ve been responsible for key changes and advancements in the company. Management sees you as truly dedicated and you’ve worked your way up to a six figure salary.
You’ve tucked away some money for your kids’ college, but also didn’t pass on the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your labor. So, this past year, you had that in-ground pool installed, upgraded to a nice, but not too pricey, sports car and picked up annual passes to Disney to put smiles on your childrens’ faces.
You’re living comfortably, even though the bulk of the money you’ve saved is earmarked toward college tuition.
This morning, you wake up, hop in your new car, hitting the local cafe before heading into work. You pull into the company lot, and head for the front door.
But… it’s locked.
There are no lights on, and few cars parked. You and a handful of your coworkers stand outside, wondering what’s going on. Then, your boss pulls up, and gives you the bad news. The company is now closed. Not due to the economy or failing product line, but rather, because he was so intrigued by what the Internet had to offer he decided to take all that hard work you and everyone else has done and offer up the product plans online… for free. After all, information wants to be free, no?
Sound absurd? Perhaps, but those downloading illegal music, movies, books and software are creating a very similar impact. You know who else is? The rest of us.
When did we become a society that thinks others should be offering up their hard work for free outside of charitable contributions? When did it become okay for someone to give up their dream job to put food on the table when that dream job, within all legal limits, would pay the bills?
More importantly, when did we become so expectant and accepting of others’ notion of getting things for free that we made “freemium” a primary focus of our own business models?
It doesn’t matter how (or exactly when) this all started. What matters is what we do with the information we’ve amassed, often at great costs.
How much money does someone who provides a wealth of free content really make selling premium goods? The answer: Not nearly as much as he could.
We’ve taken the traditional “sample taste” and “try before you buy” and turned it into “sample how easy it is to tie all the pieces together and learn my entire business model.” Think that’s an overstatement? For some, maybe, but for most, there’s so much time spent giving “tidbits” away that it’s difficult to keep track of what you actually gave. And if you are holding back (likely not nearly enough), someone else is there to fill the void.
The worst thing about “free” is it totally devalues everything we’ve done thus far. I don’t know about you, but my education was not free. The time I’ve spent researching, analyzing and strategizing came at great cost.
John Jantsch made some pretty bold statements about “information wants to be free” at the AmEx Open Forums. (Read: 5 Reasons Free is Hurting Us All)
When content is consistently given away it loses its value–not only for the producer, but also in the eyes of the content consumer.
- John Jantsch
John’s right. It’s time we step back and rethink things. If that means experiencing a slow season while we re-educate users, we can only benefit in the long run.
I’ve read many articles on this topic, along with comments by those who say we must provide valuable goods, services or knowledge for free in order to attract a bigger clientele or new customers. I’ve heard the arguments that say we need to give and give and give in order to build our lists. And I call foul.
To those who really think all this free content is necessary to bring real people through the door, I can only ask, “Whatever happened to the testimonial?”
With all the advances in technology, one element of business hasn’t changed: the power of “word of mouth” advertising. Therein lies the possibilities of real success. After all, if people aren’t talking about you, even the free content you’re offering is worth just that: zilch.