Should Content Always Be Free?

I’m going to suggest something radical.

You know that content you’re creating? Your blog posts, white papers and other assets you use for SEO and lead generation?

What if you sold that information rather than giving it away for free?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Back in the “early days” of the web, we didn’t have blogs or Twitter (ah, the wonderful days when we didn’t worry about social media.) Yes, we talked about the importance of “fresh” content and recommended publishing articles and white papers. But there wasn’t this massive push around “company as publisher.”

What’s more, people were used to paying for smart, premium content. They may not have paid a lot, but they paid something. And were happy to do so – after all, they were receiving fantastic information at a fair price.

Then blogging came on the scene. People quickly realized that blog posts = additional Google-positioning opportunities. This started the massive blogging craze we see today. It’s not enough to write a few articles a month. Today, companies feel pressured to write a LOT of quality content all the time.

You’re probably feeling the content-pinch yourself.

The question is: Is this still smart to do in today’s content-heavy (and time-scattered) world?

Sure, there are certainly SEO benefits to content generation. And there are certainly lead-generation benefits, too. From a branding perspective, writing fantastic content positions you as a market leader.

However, thinking about this from another perspective, “free” content may be seen as throwaway content that doesn’t have as much value as, say, a moderately-priced ebook.

I’ve been told many times that I’m “giving away too many secrets” on my blog. Before, I didn’t really agree with that perspective – after all, I love to educate and help people succeed. And the content did generate leads, so it was all good.

Today, I’m rethinking this position. Sure, giving away some content is a smart move – and I still agree that companies should maintain an active blog. But isn’t monetizing some of that content even smarter? This strategy may not work for all companies, but it could certainly work for some. Perhaps your company is one of them.

So, some discussion questions for you (and your in-house team) are:

– How often do you really have to blog (hint: it may be fewer times than you think.)

–  What would happen if you backed off on free content and created small ebooks and sold them for a small fee?

–  Are your existing content assets helping you meet your conversion goals? Or are you blogging/producing white papers/etc. because you feel you have to?

– If you did sell content, what information are you happy giving away for free – and what information is valuable enough where charging for it would be the smarter option?

I’d love to know your thoughts! Please post them in the comments below.

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Photo thanks to walknboston.