Everyone likes to get things for free. That’s pretty much a given. In the past, however, giving things away for free meant a large cost to the provider for the creation of the free product. With the Internet, however, we all know that giving things away for free can really be done with minimal incremental cost. Yes, there is always the cost of creation – and in many instances this can come with a very high price tag, but with most media at least, other than the cost of creation, the distribution is very close to free.
Still, there are many who argue that giving things away for free is a horrible idea. My response is this: you are living in the past and you are destined to fail.
Sure, you can’t give everything away for free – you’d never make any money. You also can’t expect to run on an ad-supported model – there’s simply too much content out there. But one way you can go about using free is to build a brand, or to simply get someone interested – and then use the freemium model.
Simply put, the freemium model is one in which you give away something for free and then sell an upgrade or a value-added service or product to further enhance the experience. It is not a free sample, then pay to get the full thing. This is not the bait-and-switch method of selling, but something altogether different.
An example of this is the current world of online book publishing. As anyone in the publishing industry knows, publishing houses are simply not signing much new talent – and they especially aren’t very willing to gamble on an unknown author. Yet, you will often see writers who don’t understand this, and certainly don’t understand the current marketplace for intellectual property.
Harper Collins runs a site called Authonomy, and on it, aspiring writers can post their manuscript to receive feedback from readers and other authors, which Harper Collins then uses as a way to filter through a digital “slush pile” to give them a way to zero in on the books that appear to have the best chances of making it in the real world. On this site, authors are allowed to post either the full manuscript or a partial (usually the first few chapters), and in many instances, the partial is the way they have decided to go.
What these aspiring authors, and many other creators who still attach themselves to an outdated school of thinking do not realize is this: you need to bare yourself. The most common argument given by these authors for not offering their full manuscript is not that it is unfinished, nor is it that they aren’t happy with the full thing, but that they think somehow by offering the full thing no one will publish them or once they do, no one will read their book since it was available for free.
The funny thing is, no one is reading their books anyway.
Unless you already have a fanbase, a large distributor, or a lot of money to spend on advertising, the chances are you will not ever make it.
This is where the idea of the freemium really can come into play – and it is a concept that can be applied to musicians, artists, authors, programmers, and anyone else who deals in intellectual property.
With technology continuing to evolve, and creation and distribution tools becoming more accessible, it is becoming easier for people to become creators – which means there is a lot more competition out there. A lot of this competition is quite good, too. So, in order to compete in today’s marketplace, it is absolutely essential that you not only have the chops, but that you have people know you exist.
One question I am repeatedly asked regarding my new novel, The Trouble With Being God, is why I keep giving it away. It’s free to read on www.beinggod.com, the whole book is up on Authonomy, I’ve given away quite a few actual printed copies (printed cheaply, yet professionally, using Lulu.com‘s print-on-demand service), and I’m definitely losing money in the process.
How do I ever expect to make money off of it?
The answer: I really don’t. By giving away the book, my goal is to build a group of readers who know who I am, and hopefully would like to read something else by me someday. Yes, I have more stories in me, and they will likely be improvements over what I’ve done in the past. The fact is, however, that until people have read something by me, they’re very likely to not know who I am at all. I could go the traditional route, contacting agents and publishers, but right now my goal is to build up a base of readers – and the best way to do that is to stand by my work and make it accessible.
When my next book is available, it will very likely not be available for free. The Trouble With Being God – the whole darn book – is my free sample.
The days of the 30-second snippet are over. This is why you can hear full songs on MySpace and elsewhere – the music industry is really starting to get it.
It’s about time the rest of the IP industry did as well.