the exposure economy

I wrote in the post, knowledge is personal, that pretty well everything  I have achieved professionally is a result of my sharing online, especially through this blog. I still learn a lot by sharing ideas and engaging with others who do as well. But I am wondering if there is a law of diminishing returns on sharing. The platform capitalists may be winning.

My posts are shared and copied a lot: 15,905 times in 2013, according to one source. Many of my models and presentations are used inside organizations. Salaried workers and consultants use what I give away in order to earn their livelihood. For the most part, I am fine with this, as it raises my profile and the level of engagement. But it seems we are entering a time when people expect to get whatever information they need for free and feel no obligation to support the people who create it. I am beginning to question my current business model. Last week I was twice asked to work for free. In each case the person asking me to work for ‘exposure’ was a salaried employee. My bank has yet to accept exposure as a form of payment.

Like they say, entrepreneurs have to work on their business and not in their business. Peter Drucker said that, “The purpose of any business is to create and keep a customer.” Customers are not people who ask you to work for free. I call these charities, and I support several.

network-decisionPerhaps there is a glut of speakers, writers, and consultants in my field, and price is tending to zero. In that case, any smart business person would change their business model away from these services. I am going to seriously re-evaluate my business model, which is always a good thing to do from time to time. As for my blog, there may be more short posts and fewer fully-formed articles. I may move my journal to one of my private communities and keep Twitter for public conversations, limited to 140 characters at a time. I was recently invited to the Tsu platform which shares revenues, and maybe I’ll put my writing there. For now, I’ll keep working and learning out loud here, but I’m feeling it may be time for a change.

Feeding crowd-milking platforms is not a sane business model.

23 Responses to “the exposure economy”

  1. Michelle Parry-Slater

    Hi Harold,

    Thanks for sharing such an interesting article, and the video link is very relevant. I think you are spot on the money. Why is it that freelancers are expected to give everything away for free? Conferences, round tables, magazine articles. All in the name of good publicity. It is good publicity only for the conference, round table or magazine! So we are trapped, wishing to change the world, but having to ask our bank managers to take Kudos and Good Rep as currency. It is a challenge.

    The flip side however is, that is we don’t give stuff away for free, there is a tranche of society who are genuinely not in the money, and therefore if we all don’t share they cannot access the good stuff. These people may be students, or low paid, or starting out in their careers, or career changers, or have unsupportive bosses, or are simply interested parties. I feel it will be a sad day when we cannot share as it is these people who miss out. It is these people that I am in a tiny way supporting via my year long campaign to tweet each day a practical tip on workplace learning (#NoPlasters). I know am giving it away, and I know this is business suicide, although it is only little tips. However I am more keen on people knowing workplace learning can be done differently than not knowing this. This makes me one of Harlan Ellison’s amateurs, so I apologise to my global learning colleagues.

    Of course, if a company is using your stuff and reselling it, without question they owe you. If you do that from a store, it is called shoplifting and you will be prosecuted. But I maintain the possibly naive positivity that if I share something useful someone somewhere may benefit, even if I cannot pay my mortgage this month. Then when I am out of the street with my family, maybe someone will share a kindness with me! Like I say, possibly naive postivity.

    Good luck with thinking about your new business model. Perhaps you could share that with us other generous freelancers, as we all need to take stock together.

    Kind regards
    Michelle Parry-Slater

  2. François Lavallée

    Totally agree with you.
    The price you ask for your work, your rather excellent work I should add, is related to the kind of clients you will acquire.
    Michelle is right though. Some parts should be free to share and educate. The trick is to create an integrated products suite to keep them coming back for more…
    The exposure economy must be transformed into the Expertise economy and THIS is worth paying for.

  3. Sibrenne Wagenaar

    Dear Harold, thank you for your openness in sharing your thoughts on this! I have been thinking about this as well… I have the same tendensy to share a lot. Part of my nature? I also believe in the idea that you can share tips, articles, lessons learned. But you cannot share the skills you have the facilitate that process, have this excellent conversation with a client, ask the thoughtprovoking questions that are so helpfull to others. So.. I do believe in the idea that you share the explicit knowledge, but that the ral value is in the tacit knowledge. That what’s in your fingertips while working with others.

    And I find my challenge is to share that what makes people curious, what helps others… and that they realise that, to make fully use of the knowledge, they need to collaborate and work with me.

    Thinking about the seek-sense-share… It seems rather straightforward when you talk about it, but my impression is that it requires certain expertise to use and implement it in your team of organization. You cannot give away your expertise in using the ‘model’ succesfully and really change people’s and organization’s competence in … How do you see this?

  4. Jon Husband


    It is straightforward .. and then you have to realize that each individual seeks, senses and shares differently, which is why it becomes an exercise in community, trust and shared objectives, etc.

    Not so easy, especially in networks of fast-flowing information.

  5. Jon Husband

    This was meant to precede the rest of my comment, above ..

    “seek-sense-share… It seems rather straightforward when you talk about it, but my impression is that it requires certain expertise to use and implement it in your team of organization.”

  6. philip browning


    I for one very much value your thoughts and sharing. Perhaps you may need to have some form of subscription – micro-payment pay per view/semi permeable pay wall for this site? here in Australia one of the sites that made a go of this was Renai LeMay with (although no longer operating).

    Slightly off subject but I just read your comment on the thread in linkedin.

    It seems to me the vast majority are not familiar with the degree to we have become the “product” when we use/play within others walled gardens – The big platforms deliberately obfuscate via terms of service and the misuse of language. Unfortunately, it would seem many using such platforms may not even care about these semantics

    However, in time I suspect there will a social movement that seeks a re-calibration of this imbalance via the creation of shared value in some form or other – IE some “end-user equity”. ELLO and Tsu are early attempts.

  7. Glyn R Jones

    Hi Harold.

    I’m a public servant in the UK and although my
    organisation has benefitted a lot from me reading your blogs I think it would take me a month of
    Sunday’s to find a way for that to be reflected.

    But PKM is personal, and I’ve benefitted a lot too. So although I might not be able to fully participate at this time I’ve signed up to your PKM workshop to try and acknowledge the value I’ve received from your work.


  8. Earl Rudolfo

    Way to go, Harold, I’m blown away by your transparency in this article. Totally agree with what you’re saying and the comments posted. But I do believe there has to be a “happy medium (or an equalization factor)”. In thinking about the adage, “It is Better to Give than to Receive”, there is a certain amount of gratification and possibly self-actualization when one gives freely (without expectations) but receives in return (monetary or otherwise). Having said that, I do believe that sharing knowledge begets knowledge and wisdom – which is truly priceless. Finally, with all this said, your business model needs to work and provide benefits for you. Sounds like you’re standing at the crossroads in your decision making.

    • Harold Jarche

      I am a strong proponent of knowledge sharing and social learning. My question, to myself, is whether there is a business model in producing things that people want for free, but not offering something they are willing to pay for. I used to think that the blog was a way to stay connected and it would also help drive consulting and speaking engagements. Now people want me to speak for free and there are fewer consulting opportunities. The latter, I think, is due to the big consultancies moving into the social business space, as well as an increase in freelancers. As with any business, one has to change with the times.

  9. Mariano Sbert

    yo soy un seguidor tuyo desde Mallorca. mi bajo dominio del ingles no me permite escribir en este idioma y le leo a través de un traductor.
    Me siento aludido por ti y por Michelle. Tus propuestas me estan sirviendo para aprender y mejorar en mi nueva ocupación. Si, sin duda actualmente recibo más de ti de lo que te doy pero creo que formo parte de la cadena ya que yo también procuro dar a otros. Seguro que estas en tu derecho de bajar la voz. Está claro que hay que comer. Yo he intentado inscribirme en tu último curso. Te mandé un correo previo pero no me llegó tu respuesta. Gracias por compartir.

  10. Will Richardson

    Hey Harold,

    One of the reasons we started as a subscription site is that we wanted a space where authors would be paid for their work. We can’t pay much at the moment, ($300 US per post) but as out subscriptions grow we hope to increase the amount accordingly. No question, we also see the site as a business, but we’ve been happy so far with the response to this “different” model.

    By the way, would love to have you write for us… ;0)

  11. philip browning

    Harold, in response to your observation about large consultancies, what is the value proposition of a Change Agents Worldwide – or similar body/consortium as a mitigation strategy to balance against the tendency of organisations to shy away from individuals and go with the “safety” of larger /global consulting houses?

    How does a Change Agents Worldwide or similar bodies help with gaining work against the larger consultancies.

    • Harold Jarche

      I am no longer a member of CAWW, so that may say something about my perception of its value, Philip. One model that seems to work better is what is doing.

  12. Bruno Winck

    I empathise with what you expressed but I’m not sure your solution of adding a paywal is the most adequate. I think you could just be slightly in advance.
    Adding a new segment in the business model of a small entity always comes with some risks. Special attention must be taken to avoid overlap with existing revenues. It is not impossible that having some new contents hidden behind a paywall will eventually impact your notoriety causing dents in conference revenues. It is also possible that many readers who will opt-in for joining the paying side would have been the same willing to join a workshop one day. It can be much easier for people working in large companies to get support for a workshop then to pay a monthly fee. Etc..
    Since what you want to address is to obtain revenues from companies willing to reused your content the best would be offer them a simple way to buy a checkout what they want. It’s a common business model for stock photos for example. You browse and see a picture you would like to incorporate in a business document. The price is clear, visible. Do you fit in the NC criteria of the CC license and how much it costs to be on the safe side. I imagine many of these companies have budgets for buying stuff, you just want to reduce the friction. When they do their choice they don’t want to contact you and ask and wait for an answer. You know how many people shared and infringed your rights, you don’t know how many just didn’t contact you. IMHO there is more to gain there and you are sure you will not take a risk on you other revenues.

    • Harold Jarche

      Thanks for the great feedback, Bruno. I’m not considering a paywall, but I was considering posting less in public, and keeping better stuff in reserve.

  13. Simon Terry

    Harold, thanks for this discussion and an important reminder. Your work is highly influential and very valuable to us all so let’s hope there are ways to share some of the insights. Many people do not seem to quite follow that your creative commons licensing does not involve a complete give-away of IP. I support Bruno’s comment that a clear product purchase or licensing model might help. I know it is something I have been recommended and I am considering. I find it a constant challenge to share and not to give away the rationale for hiring my skills as a consultant. Like you, I have been told of people who incorporated my content into their own materials and I have had clients that they decided they will give it a go on their own based on my blog. There is a growing and changing market in social business consulting, but as we know that market is far from equal or level. What offers the best hope is that those who proceed on their own inevitably begin to discover in a complex world recipes need expertise and adjustment to the clients circumstances and that takes expertise, sense-making and judgment. I remain hopeful that the continued efforts at mastery have some ongoing viable return.

  14. Gerardine Rudolphy

    As always Harold, an excellent piece. This has triggered a number of personal ah-ha moments and provided some reassurance that a stance I took last week is rational and reasonable and not selfish, mean-spirited or bloody-minded.
    It has also made me stop and think about what I learn and gain from others and what I give in return.
    Maria Popova’s approach seems to balance the desire to give with the need to receive. Rather than directly asking us to hand over our money, or else; she provides us with the opportunity to safeguard her ability to continue to provide such a rich resource. The psychological impact is very different.
    Organisations I’ve worked in are attracted to infographic style posters and desk ‘aides’; takeaway visuals/handouts are often willingly purchased and can be put against cost centres with delegated expenditure. Yep, I’ve spent way too long in the public service.
    Kotter would have cleaned up (again) when he made the slide set for ‘Accelerate’ available for download and unrestricted use for US$99. I know 3 sole traders who are cheerfully benefiting as a result. It was a snip for anyone in a market that was interested in his change model.

    But what do I really want to say?

    Thank you Harold for speaking out; this emperor has no clothes.

  15. jessesoininen

    Joining to the long queue of loyal followers of you Harold.

    Willing to buy your awesome clarity of thought in what ever channel you choose to use.


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