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.
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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.