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.



About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.