Helienne Lindvall, a columnist for guardian.co.uk (who also happens to be a musician), recently wrote about people who advocate for free content but charge high fees to share their expertise. In her view, this practice is “ironic” and she decries the fees such speakers earn “peddling a utopian, and some would say fictional, business model to increasingly desperate music and media companies.”
Lindvall has entirely missed the point. The speakers she targets — Cory Doctorow, Seth Godin, and Chris Anderson, among others — aren’t suggesting everyone give everything away at no charge. They’re not saying people don’t deserve to get paid for their creative efforts. What they’re offering is the idea that giving something away for free can lead to making money on something else.
Take Seth Godin for example. His book, Unleashing the Ideavirus, is the most downloaded e-book in the history of the internet. Let me repeat: in the history of the internet. It’s a free download and always has been. The visibility and reach that the free e-book has given him has generated far more for him than selling the e-book for $10 a pop ever could. In this instance, free works for him. But he also sells print copies that he does charge for. Is this irony? Hardly. Godin simply recognizes that free can work wonders.
Authors can choose to give books or other content away for free and often they do so precisely because there’s some other sort of payoff: exposure, reputation, the ability to charge more for consulting, an increased demand for consulting, or even — gasp! — paid speaking engagements.
In fact, Doctorow, himself a guardian.co.uk columnist, wrote that while giving content away for free may not always help the bottom line, it certainly can’t hurt. (Read Doctorow’s thorough and articulate rebuttal to Lindvall’s article here.)
Have you tried giving away content for free? What were the results?