This is Free Content
There have been a lot of posts and articles recently against creating something solely for the purposes of exposure. And I won’t argue that exposure is difficult to eat and the assumption that artists should create and offer their creation for exposure is horribly wrong. But, um… this is free content.
And not just this post. This website is full of free content! Images, book blurbs, I think there is even a video or two hiding in here somewhere. Yup. All free. And you know what? I got ideas for the layout from other websites which I didn’t have to pay to look at it. I was inspired by free content.
There is a subtle difference between exposure as payment and offering free content. But not much. And honestly in the course I am currently taking it does specifically say to cut out the free content. Because that is no way to grow a business. Because then your prospective customers will just wait until you offer it for free. If they don’t pay, they they are just freeloaders. Look for sales. Cut the rest.
Of course what do I know, right? I’m still at the beginning stages of this business and maybe I’m doing it all wrong (no surprise there!). But my perspective is if you are here reading this, you are either looking for a distraction or you looking for the answer to a question (or are you related to me. Hi Dad!). And if you are looking for a distraction, may I suggest one of my (and a few author friends’) free books – you’ll get hours of certified distraction there! 😉
But seriously, free books brings up another aspect of this topic – a free book is one of the most recommended ways of getting your writing out to new readers. Let them sample your writing to become accustomed to your style, tone, and story lines so that they will hopefully become fans. So offering free books is okay, but not advice within free blog posts? But what about podcasts? I listen to some AMAZING podcasts that make me itch to start my own and often find myself amazed that they are free. Am I missing a payment coming secretly out of an account somewhere?
There is a lot of free content out there. How to be heard, much less discovered, in all that din is a subject of a future post! This post is about why to offer free content, at least in my opinion. Because there are very good valid reasons, and they related back to why I offer free books.
Through free content, you get to know me
That is a fairly obvious one, but it has a lot of layers. This website and blog are my online home. And just like my living space, I’ve put thought and care into how it looks, what photos I use, the layout, the colors. It reflects me as much as the subjects I write about and how I turn a phrase.
And the strange truth of it is within this bizarre online world we reside in having a sense of a real person behind the electrons makes everyone more comfortable. A sense of online community, safety, and trust develops out of small interactions. If someone trusts you, they will most likely trust your product, which means allowing a reader to become more comfortable with who you are by accessing you online may lead to sales and reviews and maybe even referrals. Or maybe we’ll just get into a great conversation and make each other’s day a bit more awesome. I’m totally good with that!
By posting free content, I get to be helpful and show that I have a genuine interest and passion in the subject I’m sharing. There are some great books and studies that show having a “giving attitude” will lead to higher success (and probably just greater happiness) than if someone is a taker. So give content – preferably useful and interesting content! Give to the world. Help someone with a problem for free.
For me, writing is a passion. But I came to writing through being a reader. I love finding a great book crafted by a fantastic author. And that obsession of mine has me truly wanting to help create more excellent authors! So I’m happy to post free tips and lessons learned. I’m in this profession because I love it and I care. But you probably don’t have to hear me say that. You’ll be to tell from the reams of posts!
Writing blog posts also helps me work out thoughts on a subject.
There is nothing like explaining a problem or subject to someone in a way they will understand to help cement your thoughts. Whether I’m looking for an answer or trying to simply frame the question, once I attempt to share the idea and break down its parts, that is when I unlock the important aspects. I could do that in a journal or I can do it here. I prefer here.
I’ve answered my own questions, found new problems, researched and discovered answers, followed odd paths to new places, and then tried to condense all of that into something comprehensible to share in a way that isn’t boring. That not only improves my thoughts on a subject, it improves my way of thinking, my problem solving, and my writing ability! Blogging is useful (says the author of 100,000+ word epic fantasies…).
What about if I write a blog post on POV that I offer for free. Does that mean I can’t teach a course on POV? Can you reach the bottom of a subject in one blog post? I can’t. Not even close.
If I can talk about a subject for over an hour, writing 800 to 1000 words on it barely scrapes the surface of the important parts. Much less the advanced skilled parts. Heck, I could bundle the 5 or so posts I’ve written on POV, offer them as a free download, and not have even nicked how much I have to say on the topic (apparently I think way too much about POV…). But sharing free information lets you glimpse that I do actually have some knowledge on the subject.
It is like those webinars that are being offered (almost daily if my inbox is any indication!). The good ones really do give you some of the core skills to solve the problem you want to solve and which led you to listen to the webinar (knowing that they will pitch a course at the end). And if in that hour they teach you skills and catch your interest with what more they have to offer in the full course to help you achieve your goals, well that is win/win. A blog post or article isn’t that much different. If you are an expert at something and ready to teach it or write books about it, share away! Demonstrate your knowledge and skill.
But never offer 100% of something for free that you sell (or intend to). This is the converse of the above. Because yeah, if you give away all of your tips, why would anyone pay for it too? This is the problem of art. A unique and original creation is worth more than exposure. But a blog post… to me it doesn’t equate to something as unique as a painting.
But a book might… which makes me ponder how this advice relates to those times I do give away free books for a week or so via KDP select. Should I? A book isn’t as singular as a painting or sculpture. Still, should I give away things I sell? I’ve certainly had a few pointed questions on why I don’t simply give away all three books in epic fantasy series since the first is free everywhere, and the second you can get by signing up to a mailing list. From the perspective that I give away two out of three, so why is the third the line does seem odd. But umm, no, I’m not going to give away book 3 as well!
This example does show why giving things away is a problem. If you do it for one thing or one place, why not for others? Set a firm boundary of what content is for free, what is different about something that is why it is not free, and stick to that. Some free content is good. Everything for free smacks of a “Going out of Business” sale.
Free content is about exposure
It really is. I write here for all the reason listed above, mainly because I like to share thoughts or give tips on the things that I’m learning (by tripping over). But those little icons at the bottom of the post, they are there for sharing if you like something (or dislike. lol!). And it isn’t just about social shares. Links, likes, SEO keywords, all build to create a solid platform useful to proving the value of my site in rankings for prospective customers and to advertisers making sure I’m not some may-fly spammer. Scammers don’t offer actual valuable content!
So yeah, Wil Wheaten was right when he scoffed at the Huffington Post for wanting to post something of his, something that was already available online for free, for the very cheap payment of exposure. But Wil was wrong too. It was already out there for free. Why not be happy the Huffington Post asked and didn’t just Press it? Why not say, “Yes, but if you want me to write something more in-depth and original, I will. But it will cost you.”?
What do you think? Do you like the idea of posting information to the masses for free or should all craft have a value? And should writers offer free books for quick sales?!? I’m confused now… 😉