The business of information

The internet era has allowed almost anybody to self-publish and we’re doing it in droves, on blogs, wikis, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter. This has shifted our relationship with information because we can find most information we need for free.

I wrote earlier this year about the changing information business.

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.

With ease of publishing comes increased competition and most content publishers today are looking for new and better business models. Ross Dawson sees an exclusive class of online content creators developing, but at a cost. Dawson sees increasing demands to publish more frequently:

I don’t know how professional bloggers who are parents of young children manage. You’d be torn in both directions. It’s hard to keep the blog posts flowing every day, all the time, while you have other demands.

However it will be an imperative for almost all of us to create content in some form, just to have any visibility at all in an overloaded world.

So those who choose to belong to the exclusive class of content creators are automatically drawn into this spiral of intensity, whether they like it or not.

This seems kind of scary, especially when my own publishing is not for money. I wonder if I’ll feel this increasing pressure in the future.

Blogging is part of my learning (PKM) process and has a side benefit of connecting with potential partners and clients. I don’t spend any money on traditional marketing. Everything on the blog is free because I get intrinsic and extrinsic non-monetary rewards for doing it.

Of course, one concern is that people will take my ideas and sell them as their own. This is a risk of being on the internet and I don’t see this changing. It can be frustrating to see work that was developed over years of practice and reflection get repackaged and sold as a poor imitation. An alternative is not to share, but that would be self-defeating.

I don’t think that charging for general information is a viable online business model. When I look at how to price information, a rule of thumb I’ve adopted is that anything that requires context can be fee-based, while context-free information, like blog posts, can be given away. That rule may change some day but constantly tweaking our business models is just part of life in perpetual beta.

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