Is “free” all it’s cracked up to be?

Acland Brierty writes:

Hi Seth,
I saw your last blog post; ‘forty to one’ and wanted to share with you some interesting things we found when we made everything on our site FREE. We brought all our job-winning tools under one roof and gave them away… that’s over $250 or more in value for free. The idea was that we would use a TV model and let google adsense become our income stream. Now here’s what we found: the sign up rate went up only fractionally more than when we used to charge for the individual components (and that is based on our most popular item, an ebook called job secrets revealed).

Now here’s the best bit… revenues fell through the floor. People just weren’t clicking the ads… and I’m going to share with you a stunning lesson we learned from adsense in a minute.

Anyhow, I saw your blog and I was thinking about all of this and then I thought to myself, here is what Seth is going to say:

"you guys just don’t have a good relationship with your clients etc etc"

The difference for us is that we were trying to give away something that already exists, for free, to people that knew us and already had it… OR … to people that had no idea what or who we were. In ‘forty to one’, on the other hand, you are giving away a NEW idea and book to people who like what you do and want more and they don’t have a copy of ‘knock knock’.

So we abandoned the FREE model and started to charge for it again and our sign-up rate increased… I guess that in some cases FREE means that it has no value. We did get a few comments from people saying that they were always waiting for a ‘catch’ on our free site. You know, sign up for free but if you want the really good stuff it will cost you $$$… so they were amazed when this never came.

Just thought I’d share the experience.

Thanks for the note… my take is actually this:
1. if it costs money, many people value it more highly.
2. if it costs money, many more of the ‘buyers’ pay an increased amount of attention.
3. if it costs money, you get a better shot at future interactions, because the stakes are higher

That’s one reason why college degrees are worth more than reading a lot of books in the library, say, or even work experience.

The real question here is order of magnitude. If charging for something online only cuts your volume in half, it’s almost certainly worth it. But as more and more outlets are training people that good stuff can be free, it’s going to get harder to sell digital information.

As for ads, clearly there are some topics and some audiences that are far more likely to click on ads than others. More on this soon. (PS Acland (he’s a he) adds some more here. )