Your product may no longer be your product

When I started this blog six years ago I knew that I would “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 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.

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