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Giving Content Away

Posted By Darren Rowse 19th of April 2006 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Another thing that Cory Doctrow talked about last night that I’ve been pondering ever since is how he releases his novels for free online as well as in hard copy. He spoke how this has worked really well for him and is probably the reason that he’s sold so many books.

His theory is that the reason most authors don’t sell many books is because no one has ever heard of them. Giving their stuff away for free and encouraging people to share it actually works in favor of the author because it puts their work in the hands of more people – a percentage of which are likely to purchase it.

To put it another way – the biggest threat of an author isn’t piracy – it’s obscurity.

I’ve been pondering this as it relates to bloggers on two levels.

1. The failed Micro Payment Business Model – When I first started investigating how to blog for money I came across a number of bloggers who were talking up ‘micro payments’ as a way to make a living from blogs. Their theory was that they would charge many people a small amount to have access to their blogs. The theory was that loads of little payments would add up to a big pay cheque.

Of course this micro payment business model has been tried by many and has not succeeded in almost every case I can think of. One of the main problems is that people are unwilling to pay for information that they can get for free elsewhere unless it has some extra value added to it. Micro payments might work for some but it’s usually only the case when the person collecting the payments has something exclusive to offer.

What has ended up overtaking the ‘micro payment’ business model for most bloggers making money from blogs is a model that freely gives readers the content that they wish to view. In doing so two things of value potentially happen for the blogger. Firstly they have the opportunity to sell space on their blog (advertising) and secondly they have the opportunity to sell themselves (in a sense) on their blog.

It’s this second option that fits quite nicely with Cory’s theory and we are increasingly seeing bloggers explore ways of leveraging the profile that they’ve built on their blogs through book deals, consulting work, speaking opportunities, e-products etc

2. RSS Feeds – The second area I’ve been pondering Cory’s theory in is in the age old debate of full or partial RSS feeds. I’ve been wondering how it stacks up.

While I don’t think it’s completely transferrable into arguing a case for full feeds I have felt for some time now that the ‘ideal’ is to publish full feeds in most cases. Of course this is complicated by the fact that it’s becoming increasingly common for people to reproduce other people’s content as their own.

I’ve long expressed being torn over the issue but have decided to go with a hunch and switch ProBlogger over to full feeds on a trial basis. This is partially as a result of lots of thinking and partially as a result of the poll that I ran here a couple of months back that showed that of those ProBlogger readers who cared either way – the majority wanted full feeds.

I’ll be tracking the results of the switch on a number of levels and will make a final decision in the month or two ahead.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • Darren,

    I’d go with the full feed. Why? Can I make an assumption that most folks who would be using a rss reader as their primary gateway to your blog would be ad blind anyway.

    So, in effect, by letting them get the full feed you are building on Point #1 with your core audience.

    And I also guess it’s where you want to take ProB. If you want to get your name out there then make it as easy for the customer to get to you.

    BTW, have you got a book deal yet?

  • Thanks for switching to full feeds. It’s MUCH easier for me to deal with, especially having over 500 feed items a day to go through. It also makes me more likely to recommend other people stop by here (not that I didn’t already).

    I switched to full feeds a few months ago and really haven’t looked back. Yes, occasionally someone swipes my content or a portion thereof, but they usually wind up losing their AdSense account shortly thereafter. :)

  • I’m a fairly new blogger (Sep. ’05) and had been publishing just the short version of my feeds to RSS (via FeedBurner) while making full posts available on my homepage.

    Just a couple days ago, I decided to publish full posts on my RSS feeds (my blog is under editorial consideration at and they required full RSS feeds) but then started using the “more…” feature on my homepage, so as to better track who was reading what (vs. just having most of the hits read “Homepage”).

    I’m not sure if this is of any more value to me or to my readers. If anyone cares to feedback to me on this point, I welcome your thoughts.

    Thanks in advance!

  • Thank you!!! I appreciate full RSS because that is how I get most of my news today. I get tired of clicking on the feed and being pulled into a site with navigation and such that I don’t care that much about yet. I want to read your articles and consume the info I’m there to read anyway – but I don’t want to have to load your entire page (ads and all that I don’t click on and don’t need the option for).

    So, for me, thank you. And for a few kilobytes/megabytes less transfer each day, you’re welcome. :)

  • Full RSS is definitely the way to go – actually being able to read the full article is what’s brought me here to write this comment. Unless you’ve got some seriously eye-catching titles that’ll make me click through, most blogs that only publish partial feeds get swiftly deleted from my Bloglines.

  • I’m an anti-copyright advocate and a content creator. I’ve been writing online for almost 20 years (from the BBS days of the 80s) and have never copywrtten my work — I openly allow people to take my writings, put their name on it, and republish them. Two books I’ve written were also freely available online (well before the micro-payment fiascos), and they’ve sold very well in print form.

    For me, getting the words out there creates a bigger market — a market that I can gain if the people are truly interested. Giving someone a free e-book helps to get them to buy the entire book. I am in the process of self-publishing one book and getting a reputable publisher to publish a second one — both will be available freely online to download. I have real hopes of both selling 5 figure quantities, which is more than enough for me to get paid for the time I put into the book. In the long run, I see no reason for someone to make huge money on what is basically a few hundred hours of work.

    In the long run, all of the concerns about “information theft” and “copyright protection” will not be concerns. Those who worry too much about their words being used by others will just be a thorn in the side of people enhancing that information (and growing that market). Those who see the real income is from actually getting someone interested in your NEXT work will be the ones who will profit the most.

    For me, I’m glad people still hold on to the idea that information is valuable. I don’t. Information is worthless — it is the package that you sell, the value added features, that is what is golden. I’ll always give away my words if it means I can charge what I charge for my face-time. It has always compensated me more than trying to charge people for the information I’m happily giving away freely.

  • Surely the (in)advisability of giving your content away for free online depends on a combination of (a) how well-known you are and (b) what medium you are working in – and therefore how easy/enjoyable it is to consume the online version of your content?

    For example: (a) If you are an unknown band it makes more sense to give your work away for free than if you are R.E.M. You’ve got little in revenue to lose and much in exposure to gain. And vice versa.

    (b) If you are a book author it makes more sense to give your work away as a download than if you are a film director or band. I’ve just downloaded the free version of Yochai Benkler’s new book, The Wealth of Networks, to try it out – but there’s no way I want to read a 500 page book as a pdf. If the first chapter’s good, I’ll probably buy the book, which is much easier on the eye and more portable. But if my favourite band gave away their latest album for free, I could enjoy it perfectly well in digital form – so what incentive would I have to buy a hard copy?

    In cyberspace, maybe some media are luckier than others…

  • I think that you might be on the right track here. Doc Searls recently talked about his concept of the generous web, and I picked up on that theme today myself. This makes a great case study of the same. It is a culture of investment, the ROI of this culture becomes apparant as we go along. Let us know how it goes for you.

  • Mark:

    I think you’re heading in the direction I was first in when I realized what bunk copyright was. Preface: I’m an anti-stater, a free marketeer. Postface: I believe that EVERY medium has an opportunity for marketing as a free downloadable product, including bands and movies.

    I am starting a production studio in Chicago called No Copyright Studios. Our focus is to take musicians and actors (and writers and podcasters and whatever) and help them produce their works that would be considered “public domain” unprotected works, and help them change the distribution from a profit motive to a marketing one. For example, a band can give away their recorded album in exchange for the marketing. The profit can come from selling the “artist’s version” of the physical album which might also include a free ticket to a show, access to a web-based performance of them in the studio (during practice?) or a myriad of other value added items. For the movie production, I will be working with a variety of theatres throughout the Chicago area, focusing on taking a stage production from a set script to more “TV-show-like.” A theater group (comedy, drama, etc) would work on disseminating their show via torrent or otherwise in exchange for building a fan base that wants to see them live, or possibly in advance of a tour.

    The current motivations of creation are grounded in profit-for-data, but these are too old fashioned to really be the future. When content is protected by force of government, the worst happens: the distribution falls into the hands of cartels. These cartels then work harder to extend their domain (by years, and by subsequent laws) which make the cartels more powerful. Instead of 50,000 bands making a nice living, you have 50 bands that are mega-profit-makers, and 49,950 bands that can’t even get heard. This has repeated itself for decades as the distribution cartels got stronger and stronger, through force of law.

    I’ve written MANY articles on this topic, and if you’re interested in chatting more, drop me an e-mail.