In this post & podcast episode, I want to talk how much free content is too much free content? Is there such a thing as too free content? I’ll be sharing the pros and cons of free content and also some pitfalls that you should avoid when you are creating free AND paid content.
Listen Now to Episode 52!
Free books! Free downloads! Free courses! Free breakfast!
Free offers are all the rage, especially in this online world of blogging & author-platform building. But is there such a thing as too much free content? Let’s talk about it.
(WARNING: I may give you things to think about but not a definite yes-or-no answer.)
The popular thinking about free content is that you’ll draw more readers with your stellar free content and then people will stick around. You’ll create raving fans and then when you create a product or write a book, these raving fans who came for the free will pony up their hard-earned cash and shower you with Benjamins.
That’s one theory. It’s popular. Here’s another.
You create awesome free content and attract readers. They love you and they love your content! You write a book or create a product that costs money and your readers, who have been trained and weaned on all your free content are confused. Pay you? When we are used to free? No, thanks! Instead of attracting rabid fans who want to buy your products, you have attracted a bunch of bargain shoppers who have no budget or don’t want to pay when they’re use to free.
Do either of these sound familiar?
I think the thing to remember is that we set expectations with the things that we do. Free content can set the expectation that people can expect awesome content from us. It lets our people know that our paid content must be REALLY amazing because our free content is so good. People grow to trust us, to value our voice, to gel with our content. This happens because we give away great free content.
But free also can set an expectation on monetary value. Free can attract people who are at a point where they are not able to pay for courses or coaching. Free can make people ask for discounts, free rides, and favors when it comes time to pay. Free can get people’s panties in a bunch when it stops being free. Because it goes against the expectations YOU set.
When we are trying to attract our ideal readers and clients, we do that by creating targeted content that speaks their language. While it stands to reason that creating quality free content develops raving fans, it is also logical that free content breeds fans who enjoy and expect free content.
The answer to the question of how much free content is too much is, of course: it depends.
On you. On your goals. On your revenue streams. But here are some general principles I thought I’d lay down while you are trying to decide on how to balance free and paid content.
If You Say “Free,” YOU BETTER MEAN IT.
I have attended countless webinars or opted into free trainings where the first four of eight points on the topic are free. Then, just when I’m usually getting really interested, the host lets you know the last four points are only revealed in his or her new course. Nevermind that the webinar was not called Four Things You Need to Monetize Your Podcast PLUS a Bonus Sales Pitch for Four More Things IF You Buy My Course. Don’t bait and switch. Be free or don’t be free. But be CLEAR.
If You Use Free as Part of a Sales Funnel, Don’t Skimp Content for Sales.
A lot of free content is meant to give you value but also present a related paid product. (That is, in essence, a sales funnel.) A great example of this is a free course, like my Free Email Course. You get X number of emails or videos that provide training. Typically at least one or two of these emails or videos will mention the paid product, perhaps with a more hard sell at the end. These free trainings can be so full of value! But I’ve also taken a few that really were ONLY a sales pitch and had no inherent value. Typically that will result in an unsubscribe and not a sale.
Don’t Charge for Something You Give Away for Free.
If you offer a free book or course, don’t also charge for the same product. You might think I don’t need to mention this one as it’s pretty obvious. YOU’D THINK. I still remember meeting an author at a conference and buying a book from him (after he asked me in a way that felt like an offer I couldn’t refuse). Later, I joined his email list. And got the book for free.
No, it wasn’t a print book like the one I bought in person. But I would have preferred an ebook to print. And free to NOT-free. I also felt like the author could have mentioned that I could get the book for free, so it made me feel a bit icky about him. This only makes sense if you have two different versions, like a printable workbook with extra features that costs money and a simple ebook with fewer bells and whistles that is free.
Don’t Charge for Something If You Give MOST of It Away for Free.
I’ve heard more than one person talk about giving away about 50% or more of their paid material in their free trainings. Perhaps they underestimate people like me, who exhaust all free before moving to paid. For people like me, a course made up of 50% or more content that was available for free, it feels like you were cheated.
I have been disappointed by paid courses more than once when only one module out of six had new information that was not included in free workshops or blog posts. This feels…ew. It makes me regret spending money. It makes me lose trust for the creator. It makes sense that some of your free funnels like webinars and posts and even ebooks might have some similar content. But what is behind the pay wall should really WOW. And if it doesn’t…well. Maybe you shouldn’t be charging for it at all. Or perhaps you are giving too much away.
If You Say Free Value, It Better Have Value.
Because there is so much free these days, people are getting more discriminating. I have literally seen Amazon reviews for permafree books that say, “Not enough content for the value.” Which baffles me, because ANY content for free is greater than the the value…right? Because it was FREE.
Except I learned in Nature Camp back in middle school that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Maybe that book is free, but it cost you time to read it. It may have cost your email to opt-in. For your free content to be effective, it needs to shine. It needs to have value in and of itself, NOT only if you buy the related product.
Don’t Charge for Something Other People Give Away for Free.
This is a little trickier, as the online space is super crowded. I do think it’s important to check out related content. I wouldn’t go too crazy and read every single thing or purchase a course just to spy. That’s weird. Just do a little research! But not TOO deep. Sometimes reading all the content out there related to yours imprints it on your brain so that it comes out subconsciously in your own work. You don’t want that. You want your own original spin.
Recently I bought a book that was almost $10. Not a ton, but it was a PDF ebook. It was like 10 pages. And was literally less content than many of the free (and popular and easily searchable) blog posts on the same topic. A little research would have helped this author realize that her book was not remotely worth the price tag considering how much similar (and more in depth) content is out there.
One big note about this– I am speaking on the assumption that you are creating content that you sell, whether books or courses or services like coaching. If your revenue streams are focused around traffic-based methods like ads or sponsored posts, a lot of this discussion is moot. If your point is simply to drive traffic to your site in and of itself, then you may not even need to worry about how much free you should give away. You can give away ALL of it, because you aren’t saving content to create products or books.
Think of Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income: You can see his most recent income report to see how most of his sales are NOT related to products. It comes from affiliate sales and sponsorships and speaking fees, with some coaching and books tossed in. He doesn’t need to worry about free content vs paid content because his revenue streams are not steeped as heavily in creating products, but more in traffic-based sources. This may be you, too.
What’d I miss? I’d love to know your thoughts on free or NOT free or TOO free, both as a creator and a user! Share in the comments.
If you need a few more thoughts, here are some interesting points of view!