Don't give it all away (but don't give up on FREE)
It's exciting, isn't it? Witnessing the birth of a new paradigm, seeing it spread, excite people, confound others—we might call these “meme stages”. The idea of free, as explored by Chris Anderson's book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, has taken the marketing world by storm and its effect has been extensive and largely positive. Small business owners and independent professionals have taken admirable leaps of faith into the world of free, making often difficult adjustments to the way they do business in an effort to give consumers what they want.
There has also been frustration, the kind that accompanies the spectacular rise of any meme-able idea. We may be at the push-back stage, driven in part by excellent posts like Amber Naslund's, Are We Entitled to Free?, where she describes the proliferation of free events:
But I don’t think free is an entitlement. And there is still a place, time, and important case to be made for paying for things.
I suppose the question here is: Are we entitled to have free access to the content of an event that we weren’t willing to invest time, money, or presence in to be part of in person?
Understandable backlash. We can't give it all away, and it's difficult to rationalize providing value at no cost, especially if it hasn't yet resulted in a net gain on our end.
The problem here isn't with the idea of free, it's with what you're doing for free and what you expect in return.
Think of it like a book review. A good review (and I don't mean positive, just that the review itself is well-executed) will provide value by outlining the thesis of the book, its strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately, if it's worthy of one's time. The author of the review will explain the ideas behind the book to the extent that we, the potential readers, know what we're in for upon purchase.
But a good review also wrestles with the ideas in question, challenging and exploring the author's views so that a reader can wrap their head around the themes discussed without actually reading the book itself.
In other words, the review provides enough value to most people in and of itself. Most people won't purchase the book, but will understand a bit more about a subject they're interested in. That's enough for them. Others will be eager for more. The review will have piqued their interest and given them a reason to go beyond its depth. They'll need to buy the book, and they'll be happy to do so.
This is the balance you should be looking for when thinking about what you will give away. The value you provide should be enough to satisfy most, and you need to understand that this is alright. As long as you're letting them know that there is more to the story, that there is deeper value that they should pay you to access, some will.
Put a good free value-proposition in front of enough people, and it will pay off. Don't give up on free.