Your product may no longer be your product

When I started this blog six years ago I knew that I would be “giving away” my thoughts for free. Some might say that’s all they’re worth. I’ve also kept the site ad free for a couple of reasons – ads don’t pay much, they get in the way of readers and I want people to focus on the conversations here or just get the information they need. No ads sets me apart from many other sites, so that’s a good thing in the long run. I make my money mainly by consulting and less from speaking and writing. Externally, this blog is one big business card. Internally, it’s my knowledge base that informs my work. In addition, it’s a way to communicate with my peers.

I would like to be paid for my writing on this blog but the economics of that are not really possible. On the internet, information wants to be free. That can be a good thing. Free has let me become much better known than I was seven years ago when I started this business. As Seth Godin says, on the internet, piracy is not your problem, obscurity is. The internet is changing a lot of business models. I’m interested in business models, especially since I’ve been personally affected by several failed ones.

Janet Clarey talks about the changes that have happened to her work as a researcher/analyst:

Now, I seem to work with hundreds [of people] and that brings me to a conflict I’ve had for the better part of a year: sharing. I share what I can and have taken some criticism for not making all knowledge available for free. Some seem to think that’s the way everything should be. Free. But research is our product. You might sell insurance. I’m not going to ask you for free insurance. So I’ve reconciled that in my mind. If anyone wants more than free, I’d be happy to be your analyst : )

I would surmise that ten years ago it was easier to sell a research report than it is now. There was less information available online for free. However, I think there is still a growing market for mass customization. That means a customized research report for me that’s different than one for somebody else. That’s pretty well what I sell: customized strategy & analysis for the specific context of each client. The challenge for Janet (and all of us in the custom information business) is figuring out the 90% that we should give away for free and the 10% that has market value and that we can charge for. The problem is that this sweet spot keeps changing so we need to keep tweaking and reinventing our business models. This is like determining what degree of centralization works best for market and technology conditions.

5 Responses to “Your product may no longer be your product”

  1. Dave Ferguson

    I like the phrase “mass customization.” And I like your decision not to put ads on your site. Each to his own, of course, but usually blogs with ads strike me as an online version of a NASCAR jumpsuit: a basic outfit festooned with unrelated, distracting flapdoodle.

    As for sites with “click here for this great report,” when the report is some randomized third-party digital remainder offered mainly in hopes of grubbing a few cents, it’s a lot like inviting people over to your house so when they leave you can search for change under the couch cushions.

    …As for ‘information wants to be free,’ I think Stewart Brand’s complete statement is more nuanced and connects well with what you say here:

    Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive.Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.

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