Again With The Free Versus Paid Dilemma

Jason Fried of 37signals doesn’t work for free and he sees no reason for me, or you, to do so.

Here’s an excerpt from his latest thought piece on Inc.

Never be afraid to put a price on something. If you pour your heart into something and make it great, sell it. For real money. Even if there are free options, even if the market is flooded with free. People will pay for things they love.

This lesson is at the core of 37signals. There are plenty of free project management tools. There are plenty of free contact managers and customer relationship management tools. There are plenty of free chat tools and organization tools. There are plenty of free conferences and workshops. Free is everywhere. But we charge for our products. And our customers are happy to pay for them.

There’s another lesson in here: Charging for something makes you want to make it better. I’ve found this to be really important. It’s a great lesson if you want to learn how to make money. As an entrepreneur, you should welcome that pressure.

I read this advice over a few times and nodded along, yes, yes, yes. Then I reminded myself that I’ve put in thousands of hours of work right here, for free. Because this site is a reputation builder, a door opener and a habit I can not give up. Blah blah blah.

Shawn and I have discussed many ways to monetize the site over the years, and it’s an ongoing topic. Naturally, to go from a free site to a paid site means we’d lose most of our traffic, but here’s the thing, our traffic–which is sizable–isn’t putting money in our pockets and food on the table. So what good is it?

Does it make me feel good that thousands of people enjoy visiting this site every day? Sure it does, but I’d actually feel much better about serving the needs of hundreds of paid readers. As Fried suggests, we should welcome that pressure.

[UPDATE] According to this Adweek-Media/Harris Poll from over a year ago, 77% are willing to pay “nothing” for online newspaper content. It’s easy to see the negative here, but let’s look at the other side of the coin–23% of the people polled are willing to pay something for online news. If we converted 23% of our readers here to a subscription model we’d be in business (and so would many other free sites).

Previously on AdPulp: Writing Is Work. And Only Saints Work For Free.

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About David Burn

Native Nebraskan seeking the perfect pale ale in the Pacific Northwest. Copywriter and brand strategist at Bonehook. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp.

  • http://twitter.com/tomasacker Tom Asacker

    Be very careful. 37signals is not a media business.

    • http://adpulp.com David Burn

      Hi Tom. I trust your advice, and yes I know there’s a difference between software as a service and digital content. But there’s also a fundamental truth in what Fried is saying.

      As for being careful, I think 6.5 years of free content is the careless part. Now it’s time to try something else. It might not be a subscription model (as suggested above), it might be eBooks for sale or AdPulp events, but whatever it is, it needs to pay, or this project isn’t fully realized and its future uncertain.

  • http://adpulp.com David Burn

    from Newsonomics:

    Charging for digital news is no panacea. It’s a platform for a growth, and the beginning of a new business model. Most newspaper company CEOs have done the math, and with the current trajectory of print ad decline, modest digital ad growth and no digital circulation money, they have no hope of sustaining their businesses into 2015. That’s a bleak, but fair, conclusion.