Why People Will Pay For Something They Could Get For Free

What I don't like about web media is that it is almost entirely advertising driven. Before the web, the distribution costs of media limited content creation, so advertising made sense. There was a limited amount of content, and a limited amount of advertising dollars. Now, with the tools made available by the web, content is exploding. Can advertising dollars keep up? If not, then content costs have to drop, which means we get mired in crap content. But if you think about the strategic implications of that, it creates the opportunity to invest in quality content and monopolize an audience, thus making a lot of money. But if your competition knows that too, then everyone invests in quality content and chases limited ad dollars. Some people will obviously lose money… possibly even the people who produce good content. The economics of online media start to look like the economics of old media – where blockbusters bring in all the profit, and everything else loses money.

Maybe there is a way out of this, though, by having some content that isn't free. I remember when MarketingProfs first created a premium content section a few years ago, and the blogosphere was heavily critical, predicting the demise of the site. Well, I don't know for sure, but outward appearances indicate that MarketingProfs is pretty successful. And I think paying for some types of content is a trend that will continue.

So the question becomes why would anyone pay for content when it is so freely available on the web? The answer to that question comes from this excellent article by Kevin Kelley. The crux of it is this:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.
When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Well, what can't be copied?

You make money off content by selling something other than content. You sell the way content is packaged. You sell your reputation for picking the right content. You sell content on a different time scale. You sell content aggregated in a different way. And that is why web media is such an interesting industry right now… because the companies involved have to figure out how to make money of something that is usually free.

  • I agree… we need content that can’t be copied. This is a great time for videos. Although videos can be passed around, they can’t as easy be copied without the new buyer/owner knowing where it originally came from.

  • I have been troubled by this same question. In these early stages of the content boom, advertising seems like a good source of revenue. However, the internet can not support the amount of content that is being written right now. It’s almost like we’re experiencing a “content bubble.” Whenever an asset class bears excellent returns with seemingly little risk, you get a boom in investment. Witness the collapse of the housing bubble for evidence.

    What prevents content from experiencing a similar bubble? What will be the fallout if this content bubble bursts? Will content writers be affected or only the Googles and venture capitalists of the world?