In his new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price,” Chris Anderson (editor in chief of Wired and author of ‘The Long Tail”) suggests that giving stuff away, particularly information, is the price of entry in the new global economy. So, some people ask, how do you make money if your price is free?
What he’s suggesting isn’t some crazy theory about how things might be in the future. It’s the way things are now. Gen Y and Gen X consumers, who may not even remember a time before the Internet, assume that information is free. Bloggers in an infinite number of niche markets work hard to give away their expertise every day. Door -to-door encyclopedia salesman are no doubt extinct, having been priced out of the market by Wikipedia.
The path from connection to commerce is indirect, generally long, and often a dead end. A potential buyer might stumble on a site online, find the information they want for free and never be back. Or they may engage a bit more, maybe leave a comment on a blog, possibly dig a little deeper or fall into the conversation. And eventually, it just may happen that they actually buy something.
The other day I was poking around online, submitting my blog to various directories. I landed on a site for Best Web Directories, which gave me all sorts of great listings of blog directories, notes on the strengths or weaknesses of each, tips on how to submit, a virtual education in the subject — all for free. I must have spent nearly an hour on the site, and was many pages deep, before I was confronted with the possibility of buying something. Finally, I noticed that the site, in a very low-key way, was offering a low-cost option to have them submit your blog for you, to hundreds of directories. Judging from how long it took me to submit my blog to their top 10, having them submit my blog to 100 directories for $27.95 was a steal.
As with all trends, there is of course a counter movement, toward charging for niche expertise. The advertiser the other day for HARO, the reporters’ query listing service that Peter Shankman has turned into an inbox phenom, was an online company owned called Membership Site Owner, owned by Tim Kerber. This guy is part of a growing industry proposing that people charge for their expertise by selling monthly memberships to their sites on niche topics.
Sounds like a crazy idea, doesn’t it? We’ve grown so accustomed to the price of free, that the idea of paying for information begins to strike us as something people won’t want to do. It makes me think of a comment posted recently on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s online edition, in response to David Markiewicz’s very nice article in the business section of the paper on my “Start Your Own Company” deck of Starter Cards. The article was picked up by a columnist online, who suggested the deck as a good shortcut for entrepreneurs. That garnered a response from a very cranky reader who said, “no its not. this is another fly by night scheme for those that don’t know any better. all of the stuff she puts on her cards, and more, can be found in the library or some trusted resources for free online.”
So. Maybe we ought to drop the price on the “Start Your Own Company” deck. From $24.95 to free.