In the battle and discussion around Free (using Chris Anderson’s capitalization), I have felt that a missing component has been whether the Free stuff in and of itself has value to the consumer. Sometimes maybe and sometimes maybe not.
I work in an organization in which we run across something like this: another business unit inside the company has created some technical training content aimed at consultants and systems integration firms. Many times it takes the form of “<Name of technology goes here>-Brain-Dump-in-a-Box” which is duly posted for broadest possible distribution on the Web. Great! Lots of folks go there, download and/or watch it (if it happens to have webcasts that aren’t downloadable) and get whatever assistance the content by itself can offer.
Then, this internal group will approach my team and ask us to make it available to our training channel. For various niggling reasons, a cost/price becomes associated with this training content in the process. So the question is, will a training company be able to sell this same course to corporate customers despite the fact that they can get it “for Free off the Web”?
The answer is Yes.
The reason is value. When this corporate student attends an instantiation of this class, she or he will not be staring at a monitor for five days. They will be taught by an experienced technology trainer. There is the value! It’s not just the content (or whatever other IP you might think of) by itself. It is the context and the “value-add” that make it worth paying for. The value-add also adds cost, but the Value scenario still comes out looking good.
Will some companies still opt to go to the site, download the content and point their employees at it, telling them to “get up to speed” on their own? Sure. There will always be takers for Just Free. However, context and extra value can make the difference.
The challenge is to discover the context and extra value the potential consumers of your currently Free Stuff would be willing to pay for.