Free is Boring: Why You Need to Change How You Give Stuff Away

Change how you give stuff awayThis is a guest post by Thom Chambers from In Treehouses.

On January 15th, 2001, a revolutionary website launched with a simple goal: to provide a home for the world’s knowledge. The aim was ambitious, but that wasn’t what captured the imagination – what grabbed people was that this online encyclopedia would be free. Free to read and, more importantly, free to create.

The story of Wikipedia from this point on perfectly shows the three stages in the life of that thing we call Free:

At first, Free was considered impossible; even Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, anticipated that entries would be “complete rubbish”. Next, Free was remarkable. An online encyclopedia created by volunteers and free to access? Incredible! Then, finally, Free was boring. Information is being added to Wikipedia faster than you can read it. It’s normal. When you can get a song or a TV show or a movie for free, of course you should get information for free.

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.

What You Can Learn From College Rock

At university, I played guitar in a band. We were decent but not spectacular – proficient, but not destined for greatness. What I noticed from years of playing at gigs and rehearsal rooms was the standard my bandmates would set for other bands. The comment was always, in an impressed tone, that such and such a band was really ‘tight’. This meant that every piece was bang in time, the rhythm section locked in, everything in tune, on the beat, focused and solid.

The thing is, for signed bands, for those who have success in mind, being ‘tight’ is a given. All the other things that go into a great song are built on top of it, but you don’t praise The Rolling Stones for being tight. That’s like praising Usain Bolt for knowing how to walk.

That’s how Free is. At a certain stage, being Free is remarkable – like being tight is remarkable for a band playing in a university bar. But now, creating content online for Free is so obvious and accepted that it’s nothing.

How to Get Back to Being Remarkable

The thing is, just because Free is boring doesn’t mean the work you create for free has to be boring. It’s just that being Free is no longer enough in itself to get readers through the door.

In truth, Free hasn’t been remarkable for a couple of years now. But nobody seems to have told that to the legions of bloggers and podcasters creating so-so content relentlessly. What you need is a road map back towards the right destination, because the destination in itself is simple – instead of relying on Free to make your published work remarkable, you need to learn how to publish remarkable work that just so happens to be Free.

This is more difficult than it sounds. Publishing remarkable content is tough enough in its own right, but adding in the fact that it’s free as well? That confuses the issue still further. If you’re giving away your remarkable free content, how do you make money? How much should you give away? What’s the best format to use?

The Secret Truth About Content

Some free content is a gift. The creator publishes it purely for the sake of doing so and expects nothing in return. As Chris Anderson notes in his book ‘Free‘, though, it’s exceptionally rare to find such content.

A free report that is actually promotion for an upcoming premium ebook. A free blog post that builds your reputation so that you can eventually sell your consulting services. Almost all content that claims to be Free is actually a means to an end, rather than being an end in itself. It’s a way to reach a goal.

The problem with this? Most creators are either too focused on the end goal to bother making their free work remarkable, or they simply don’t have a solid plan for how giving away free stuff will one day become a business.

Now, the second part of this is a whole topic in its own right – one that the likes of By Bloggers and Ittybiz can help you with – but right now I’m interested in the first part: how to make your free work remarkable.

3 Ways to Make Your Blog Remarkable Again

How to publish remarkable free content is such a huge topic that I’ve written an entire ebook about it, but let’s just take a quick look at three ways you can make your blog remarkable again now that Free has become boring:

1. Stories, adventures, and lifestyles

As the blogosphere becomes more and more saturated with advice, with the same content regurgitated time after time, I’m seeing a shift in what readers are connecting with. Your advice is fine, but if I can see you putting it into action and living an extraordinary lifestyle because of that advice, then I’m hooked.

Why? Because firstly it means you’ve got the guts to take the plunge and take risks and have adventures, and secondly it means your advice must be worth something because I can see that it’s working for you. You become the living proof of how remarkable your content really is.

In a way this is a shift back to the old days of the blog – or the weblog, as it was originally. Personal journals and stories about how life is lived. Now that the web has grown up, though, you’ve read and learned enough about blogging and about the web in general to make this content valuable rather than self-indulgent.

2. Become an editor

This one’s simple. There’s too much information online. If you wanted to pause the internet now and read everything on it, it would take you over 20 million days – or 57,000 years – to do so (that’s a conservative estimate, by the way, and doesn’t include content from things like Twitter and Facebook updates).

Rather than adding to the noise, there’s increasing value in helping people to find what’s important and what’s valuable in your niche.

3. Evolve

Living data is an idea that I think has a big future. I see a time when a niche blog may only ever have a dozen posts on it, on a dozen different topics. Rather than adding new topics and content, the value is in relentlessly improving the content that already exists, updating it and adjusting it as time passes.

So many posts become irrelevant within weeks of publication, partly because the web moves so fast and partly because they get consigned to the archives where nobody ever reads them. Living data keeps everything relevant and reduces the mass of your information and noise.

The Death of Free

Of course, now that Free has become boring, many are predicting its demise. As more content becomes free and the quality and volume of it rises, it becomes simultaneously harder to charge for any information and harder to sustain the creation of such a high level of content without an income to support it.

But that might be excessive. When you look at Free as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself, the answer to the problem of Free becomes simple: jump. Your remarkable Free content helps you to build a devoted base of True Fans who can support you when you jump to creating premium content or selling consulting or building products.

Why? Because now that Free is boring, your loyal readers and fans don’t only turn up to read your content because they can get it without paying. They can get Free stuff anywhere, remember. No, they turn up because you’re publishing remarkable content that just so happens to be free. And, once they’ve seen the value you create and the quality of what you produce, they’re going to want more and more of that content – even if they have to pay for it.

You can learn more about how to publish remarkable free content in the latest edition of In Treehouses, a free online magazine that helps you to reach your 1,000 True Fans.

Thom Chambers from In TreehousesThom Chambers is the writer, editor, and publisher of In Treehouses. He is also the Marketing Manager for a boutique marketing and design agency in Cheltenham, England. You can follow along on Twitter and also subscribe to have each issue of In Treehouses delivered fresh to your inbox each month, totally free.

 

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  • http://www.TrafficGenerationCafe.com/ Ana | Traffic Generation Cafe

    Interesting post indeed, Thom – food for thought for most bloggers.

    Blogging the way it is is repetitive, redundant, and yes, boring.

    Fresh ideas are needed and welcomed.

    Your post definitely started to churn things in my mind – thanks for that.

    Ana

  • http://twitter.com/InTreehouses Thom Chambers

    Hi Ana,

    Glad you found it of interest – I agree that there’s definitely room for some innovation in the field.

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    Thom

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-William-Fitzpatrick/648369315 John William Fitzpatrick

    That was a FUN read, love the general concepts of RE-packaging. As well as the concept to bring it to a more PERSONAL and adventurous light ;) especially for services that are VERY informationally driven ;)

  • http://twitter.com/InTreehouses Thom Chambers

    Hi John,

    Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks. I for one would be far more interested in the well-written stories of someone making the effort to live in a remarkable way and teach others whilst doing it, than yet another ‘advice’ post. The way I see it, it’s the human connections that are going to stand out more and more.

  • http://www.bradleygauthier.com Bradley Gauthier

    I love your line, “they turn up because you’re publishing remarkable content that just so happens to be free” That’s soooo true!

    I feel people are not afraid to spend money on things that bring value to their lives.

    Great post Thom!

  • http://twitter.com/InTreehouses Thom Chambers

    Thanks Bradley, glad you enjoyed it. There’s an interesting discussion going on over here about actually charging for content, as a follow-on to this post, if you’re interested: http://www.spinsucks.com/communication/four-ways-to-charge-for-content/

  • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

    Really well put together post dude….here is something thats remarkable for ya :-)

    When people visit personality blogs (and I consider socialmouths to be Francisco’s personality virtualized :-) they skip over the guest posts. Or at the very least, they start reading them and instead of looking for reasons to continue to read, they start looking for reasons to stop reading.

    That was the case with me as I started reading this post. And yet, I stayed with it till the end because the post was truly remarkable and points well laid our. Great work :-)

  • http://virtualglobetrotting.com/map/alfonso-fanjuls-house/ Alfonso Fanjul

    A free blog post that builds your reputation so that you can eventually sell your consulting services. And, once they’ve seen the value you create and the quality of what you produce, they’re going to want more and more of that content.

  • http://twitter.com/dan_smith1 Daniel Smith

    Really inspiring article Thom – your ‘living data’ concept was particularly interesting. While I can see the value in this – how would a site that doesn’t post any fresh content generate enough visitors to be sustainable? Not saying the concept wouldn’t work, just interested to know how you think it would work when you significantly reduce repeat visits..

  • http://twitter.com/dan_smith1 Daniel Smith

    Really inspiring article Thom – your ‘living data’ concept was particularly interesting. While I can see the value in this – how would a site that doesn’t post any fresh content generate enough visitors to be sustainable? Not saying the concept wouldn’t work, just interested to know how you think it would work when you significantly reduce repeat visits..

  • http://twitter.com/InTreehouses Thom Chambers

    Thanks Daniel, glad you enjoyed it. Living data is a fairly new idea, so there are a few kinks still to be explored as you’ve noted. I would say though, that you’re still producing new content, but perhaps in the form of revisiting and editing a series of ‘pillar’ posts that cover the main areas of your niche. You could add new ideas, link to new discussions on the topic, that sort of thing. Think of it like editions of a textbook – every year chapters are amended and new research is added.

    Like I say, it’s an idea that’s still in its infancy – but I think it’s something worth exploring as we start to be swamped by constant streams of new information.

  • http://twitter.com/wildwomanfund Mazarine

    You know….I’m not sure that what the world really needs is more lifestyle blogs. Obviously, you’ve been inspired by Tim Ferriss, and believe me, I’ve bought his 4 hour workweek twice, (gave it away once) and it definitely got me to write my own book and build a community at my blog. And now I’m teaching people how to do what I did.

    That said, I’ve read his blog recently and I think what worked well in his book does not work so well as a blog. Because there’s only so much lifestyle porn I would like to read. How-to content is more valuable to me. It seems a bit vapid to continue to write about how to get a Brazilian girlfriend by posing as a photographer, or how to become partially able to speak in a language in 3 minutes or whatever he’s claiming these days. I do think we should focus on remarkable content, and storytelling, but MUST it be about some sort of “lifestyle” that we’re living? I don’t think so.

    Tim Ferriss’s blog would be more meaningful if he talked about how he took his money and went out and changed the world with it, helped orphans in vietnam or something. You know? It just comes off as self-aggrandizing instead of useful.

    Peace,

    Mazarine
    http://treyzsocialmedia.com

  • http://webincomejournal.com/ Chadrack

    Insightful post going to the root of the problem and offering a solution for all. I must say as a blogger I’ve become really frustrated at what many bloggers are putting out there. But your post is an eye opener that most of these bloggers do not have a clear cut idea of what their blog is about. Any blogger who looks at the blog as a means to an end will definitely concentrate on creating remarkable content.

    Besides, I’ve just gotten enough confirmation from your post about a strategy I’ve been thinking of employing this year. I’ll simply go ahead and fine tune it and put it into use!

  • Captain Marvel

    Thom, FYI, I came to this post on a referral from SpinSucks.

    This may sound pedestrian, but thank you for using proper grammar and spelling.
    There’s far too much carelessness of proper punctuation, style, and usage
    across the web—even from otherwise intelligent authors. What are we coming to
    if we can’t agree to recognize and follow basic rules which enable us all to
    communicate effectively? Thank you for setting a proper example.

  • http://www.fortworthflowers.info/ flowers forth worth

    TV show or a movie for free, of course you should get information for free.

  • http://fanns.net/ fanns

    You don’t get points for showing up any more.

  • http://www.primeinformationcenter.com/ Shandra Lemay

    but that wasn’t what captured the imagination – what grabbed people was
    that this online encyclopedia would be free. Free to read and, more
    importantly, free to create.

  • http://www.lanegermanshepherds.com/ Kelsie Dion

    The story of Wikipedia from this point on perfectly shows the three stages in the life of that thing we call Free: