What should be free? Who pays for it? Where does it all go? Should blogging and money be kept far apart from each other? Should blogs have ads? Are all links really paid, as the story goes? How does money impact authenticity? Who should pay for the picnic? Let’s talk about money. Monetization. Loot.
These are questions that we all have opinions about. People and companies have been vilified for their choices. The righteous burn their effigies on the front lawn of any blog that mixes free content with advertising. The very notion that commerce and information exchange be permitted to mix seems incongruous. Never mind the fact that media works that way. Never mind the fact that CHURCH works that way. There has to be a strong distance between the exchanges, or else it seems evil. You’re charging your community, etc.
I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. Partly because it’s my job to understand how to mix information and money-making. The other part of it is because I like to help people figure out how to do business in the Internet age. I experiment, share the results, and experiment some more.
I also run conferences, both professionally, and for passion. Between media making, conferences, and the other ways that I work in the information-for-money business, I’ve got some ideas, and I’m going to share my perspective. I predict this post will be one of the more polarizing of my last several months. You’ll either get it and agree, or you’ll tell me why the world must all function on what’s free. I can argue both sides of the coin.
In the fall of 2006, I quit my day job and joined the circus. Jeff Pulver, legendary VoIP pioneer and long-time producer of the VON conference series hired me. In the waning months of 2007, I parted ways and joined Stephen Saber’s CrossTech Media. During this same time frame, I also worked with Christopher S. Penn and Whitney Hoffman on PodCamps.
In events, there’s a triangle. I learned this mostly from Jeff. If you can, the best of all worlds goes like this:
* Attract the brilliant people and make them the community.
* Charge the businesses who support this community for the event.
* Make it worth it for those businesses, so that they want to keep supporting the event.
So, if you want your “friends” to come to a conference, make the event such that it will help them do their job better. Then, don’t ask your friends for money. Ask their employers for money (ticket cost). Then, ask exhibitors and sponsors who want the friends as customers for money. Then, you have enough money to run a conference, and make a living trying to build information.
For the content, focus super hard on the people/friends. Don’t look to what the sponsors/exhibitors think the story is. They know more about the today than they do the tomorrow. Unless you make friends with tomorrow-focused companies (my favorite plan).
That’s kind of traditional conferences in a nutshell. It’s WAY not easy. But that’s the rough premise.
Unconferences, like PodCamp and BarCamp and the like, do it differently. The premise is like this: we can all get together for a minimal cost and run something that’s useful, without making it a business unto itself. We can subsist, and everyone will leave better educated.
With PodCamps, we’ve built and built on the experience, such that the ones we run in Boston cost more than a typical *.Camp, but the payload is (hopefully) much more focused. We’ve asked for more money from the community, but we’ve turned that back around into a quality event. We find sponsors who want access to our community, and then we try to matchmake that relationship a little, so that everyone understand’s each other’s potential value. BUT we do it without a lot of heavy-handedness at PodCamps. It’s more organic. That’s the whole unconference thing.
YOU can start an unconference. You don’t need anyone’s permission.
So there are two models.
Content on Websites
The web has crushed a lot of former money makers. Look at newspapers. Look at magazines. We are VERY used to getting our content for free. We love it free. And we are finding more and more ways to get top shelf, quality content for free. It’s a great and wonderful thing. How many of us would pay a few bucks for a blog? Not very many. (Well wait, aren’t Kindle users doing just that?)
So there are all kinds of people churning out quality content, and the basic premise is that they’ll get their money elsewhere. I sure do. Lots of people do. But let’s go deeper for a second.
You learn actionable things from ProBlogger, from CopyBlogger, from Seth Godin, from me, and from others. All that content is free. It’s out there for you to learn from, profit from, build business with, and hopefully succeed. Heck, if we’re not helping you succeed, then why are we doing this daily?
Often discounted in these conversations are blogs about making money online. Those fall into another whole category of the web. And yet, some of those folks, like Ted Murphy are out there just trying to come up with new ways to build better relationships between people who have something to sell and people who want to facilitate that sale. There’s a whole culture out there figuring this stuff out, and I’m getting to know more and more of them. As I do, my mindset on how blogs interact with advertising and marketing has changed a great deal.
My Current Thinking Boiled Down
- Making money isn’t evil. HOW you make money can be. Keeping the whole picture in place helps. (For instance, in my case, I sell certain services and information – like the New Marketing Summit, but then I give others away free/cheap – my blog and PodCamp).
- Disclosure is key. If you’re going to sell something on your site, disclose that you’ve got a relationship with that company/product. ( I show my disclosures on my About page).
- Maintain the triangle. I don’t want YOU to pay for my content. I want people who need my help professionally to pay for my distilled thinking.
- Keep context. My site is about educating you. If it becomes about products to market, that’s a context swap. If I decide to build a site about selling you things, I’ll make that another URL, and you can opt to visit or not.
- Someone has to pay for the picnic. There are some really great bloggers out there who are blogging a bit less lately. I won’t name them. They have jobs that require them to focus down hard on revenues right now. I try my hardest to have the things I’m paid for (like conferences) keep me out here on the blanket giving away delicious snacks. But someone always has to pay for the picnic.
It’s your turn to weigh in. Why should everything be free? Why are ads evil? Where do you think this money should be made? If you were running the business, [chrisbrogan.com], or Scobleizer.com , or Annhandley.com , or whoever, what would you do differently? How would YOU make your money?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Photo credit, Timothy Lloyd