Monetizing free content

Seth Godin in “The erosion in the paid media pyramid”, on the balance shifting between what he calls free, mass, limited and bespoke content:

…there’s a huge sucking sound, and that’s the erosion of mass as part of the media model. Fewer people buying movie tickets and hardcover books, more people engaging in free media.

Overlooked in all the handwringing is a rise in the willingness of some consumers (true fans) to move up the pyramid and engage in limited works.

As Godin observes, this won’t be enough to replace the money that was being spent on mass media. But it is an excellent opportunity for creators producing free content to monetize their work, without compromising their free content, and sometimes without the need for a third-party publisher.

Free content can be supported by mass, limited and bespoke content. Books that accompany free writing online (plenty of people have gotten book deals after writing popular humor blogs, and many authors have blogs); accompanying apps for news sites and magazines; exclusive content for subscribers, like Shawn Blanc is doing; conferences, courses and events, like Leo Babauta does (along with writing books); and speaking gigs, where popularity can be leveraged into high-paying appearances, like Merlin Mann and Chris Anderson do. By attracting an audience — getting people’s attention — with something available free, one can leverage that attention into something that pays, whether it’s mass, limited or bespoke.

This is exactly how Babauta, who has made a career from free and uncopyrighted content, recommends making money from writing. “Once you have built an audience from awesome writing (helping the audience to solve their problems), the best way to monetize is not through ads or affiliate sales,” he writes, “It’s through creating your own products. Books, courses, etc. By far my best ever money maker, because my readers already know they want my content, and are willing to pay me for more.”

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