Is Free Always Good?

I’ve been reading Website Magazine for a few years now, as it arrives free of charge in my email inbox and in the mail, in glossy full-color hard copy. It’s a beautiful magazine with relevant information about the business of websites, web marketing, SEO and more.

From the website, it’s not apparent to me how the magazine makes money other than advertising. Seminars? Workshops? Products? It’s a curious model and one that marketing guru Seth Godin lauds. He’s a big fan of giving stuff away if it builds momentum, exposure, and attention.

So my question to you is, in this new economy, where audience is easy to amass but profit not always, where is the benefit in giving stuff away for free? Your expertise, your perspective, your talent – all free of charge?

I have an opinion on it. Actually two. One perspective is that it doesn’t matter how good your talent is, if you don’t have an audience, your message won’t get far. And you won’t earn any money.

So first build your audience, build a following, build relationships that take you somewhere, and then offer quality products and services and ideas into the marketplace that help people and the rest will take care of itself.

The other idea is sort of philosophical, but I live it and love it.

It’s the idea that, if you have enough, why not give things away for free? Why not bring value to others without a price tag, whenever possible? Wouldn’t that build mutual respect, reciprocity, and dialogue – which will take you far?

The big question is, how do you know when you have ENOUGH? The simple goal of wanting to be a millionaire for the sake of getting there isn’t good enough. There’s no substance, no humanity in such a goal.

Not every business endeavor makes money when it first launches. Most don’t. That’s not a reason to not do it. 

The other thing is when you do what you LOVE, the money will come. I first heard that in college but I didn’t come to embrace it until the past few years, after I created Your People LLC. I realized, finally, that if I do the work right in front of me, the rest will take care of itself.

And it does.

So back to Website Magazine. Is it a good thing to get it for free? Probably I would not read it otherwise. I do know that when my copy of Vogue comes in the mail, I clamor to read it – and I’ve paid for it. Today, magazine subscriptions are so cheap – why not charge?

The other side of the coin is that we associate value with what something costs. When it’s free, it’s easy to brush it aside as irrelevant.

So I guess I’m saying, give away whatever you can for free if it’s with purpose – to build audience, exposure, attention. If it’s quality and with true caring.

But then when you offer something for a fee, charge the right price. Don’t succumb to pressure to nickel-and-dime. Charge what you’re worth. And don’t hesitate.

Last week, I gave my novel to 40-some friends and colleagues, free of charge. I encouraged them to send it along to others. I welcomed feedback. I put it out there to see where it takes me – because I believe my quality storytelling and craftsman talent will take me places.

Perhaps that’s all you need: belief.

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