Free Content Is The Sampler, And The Sampler Is Running Dry

Thom Chambers of In Treehouses made a guest post on SocialMouths about the need for remarkable content and how to get paid to produce it.

How Your Blog is Like Wikipedia

Blogging has become boring. It’s not remarkable that you’re writing really good posts a few times a week, putting in hours of your spare time to create value for others. You don’t get points for showing up any more.

Sure, it used to be remarkable that you were doing this – heck, at one stage it was even considered impossible – but now it’s boring. Like Wikipedia, it’s now accepted that blogging and the creation of online content is a free medium.

Chambers goes on to discuss how it’s possible to create premium paid offers, provided one’s free content is remarkable. Chambers himself creates free content–including a series of free eBooks. He also has a $30 eBook for sale on his site.

“One big problem that publishers of free content often hit is in the lack of perceived value placed on free products,” Chambers argues. “When readers don’t have to pay, there’s no feeling of obligation to make the most out of the content. Putting a price on information often makes that information feel more valuable.” Perhaps, but perceived value won’t be enough to sustain a content business. The value of one’s content has to be real and highly differentiated, a.k.a. remarkable. At least that’s the theory. I’m afraid the practice is far different. Take a look at the shelf of business books you’ve purchased over the past ten years and ask yourself how many of them are truly remarkable.

Maybe the payday content creators seek isn’t going to come from remarkable writing and editing at all. Maybe it’s going to come from the careful placement of one’s best efforts in packages that people can buy. Look around. There’s nothing to purchase here–other than advertising. Gary Vaynerchuk believes you want to “thank me” for all the free content I provide. Maybe you do, but how can you? You can recognize that there’s a marketing practice behind the blog, but even that line isn’t plainly drawn. Yes, there’s a Bonehook banner ad off to the right, and our About page leads you learn more about Bonehook via a click, but it’s not obvious. Do you know why? I believe it’s up to you to connect the dots. I know that’s likely flawed thinking, but it’s my flawed thinking.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Thanks for expanding on my post, David, really interesting to hear other people’s perspective on this. I actually scribbled a thought to myself the other day in Evernote that ‘packaging is everything – it’s the difference between an academic and a bestselling author’, so I totally agree with your idea about “the careful placement of one’s best efforts in packages that people can buy”. Spot on.

    I do believe in the power of remarkable free content, but the two things (remarkable and free) need to be connected; it’s essentially the best form of promotion you can create, giving away something brilliant for free. But it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. The free content you create brings you fans (over time) and gives you a platform and a tribe who are willing to buy the stuff you create.

    As you say, “Maybe the payday content creators seek isn’t going to come from remarkable writing and editing at all” – and this is sort of the point I tried to make in the post. The payday isn’t necessarily going to come from that, but a loyal fanbase of readers is. What you then choose to do with that fanbase is the point at which it becomes a business decision and a payday decision.

    The post was aimed more at microbusinesses who create products, then aim to promote their business by giving away information. As you say, “perceived value won’t be enough to sustain a content business”, and you’re right. With businesses purely built on content and information, the rules are slightly different – and you’ve made a great point about that in this post.

    Great to read your thoughts, do let me know if you’d like to talk more about this – it’s a fascinating topic.

    Thom Chambers
    Editor & Publisher, In Treehouses