To Pay, or Not to Pay For Content, That is the Question

Image of RegisterRecently there’s been another stir about website owners (mostly bloggers) switching to a paid model for their business. It’s not a new conversation but it has received a lot of coverage lately.

Now, a blog in itself isn’t a business.

It’s typically used as a fulcrum for various things. You can use it to showcase your knowledge and skills, form a community around your content, sell advertising spots or just rant (as some do).

But regardless of whether you’re starting a blog, business, or already own one or both online, are you going to charge for content?

Should you charge a single fee or allow for à la cart content purchases?

Well if you haven’t given it any thought let’s take a look at some options.

Paid Access to Premium Content

If you’re making:

  • A series of how-to videos and tutorials
  • Offering in-depth analysis or
  • High quality consulting/advice in article form

Then I’d say it’s reasonable to charge for access to that premium content. Also included may be podcasts, interviews with industry leaders or successful case studies, and eBooks. There’s nothing new here as we have all “paid to play” at one point or another.

Could anyone argue with this? (OK, stupid question. People argue with everything.) You’re investing generous amounts of time and effort on this stuff,  more than your usual blog post, so why give it all away?

What about forums? An interactive community with savvy contributors on your site involves moderation and adding content. There are also costs to consider such as potential increased bandwidth and purchase of premium forum software.

Community is a benefit worth charging for access; be it a one-time entry fee or a recurring payment.

I think it’s reasonable to move all your high-end content behind a paid wall but you should keep offering some free content. More on that later.

What do you think? Is it OK to charge for premium content or do you think all information should be free? What types would you charge for in addition to those I mentioned?

À La Cart Payments (or micropayments)

Then you have the menu type of approach. Each article is a set amount (could be $.09; could be $5.00 – you choose). Each podcast may be purchased separately. Each PDF or video can be a set price.

This seems like a lot of work especially if you’re new to the scene. How do you set up the infrastructure to handle these purchases? How do you price things fairly? If you have no social proof yet how can you substantiate asking anything for your work?

This model is akin to the iTunes environment; you expect to pay for content there and each download on its own isn’t all that much. But before you run off charging people to read your “About Us” page, think about the annoyance factor. You’re likely going to annoy people if they hit a pay wall at every turn.

Would you switch to this payment model? Do you think you’d be overwhelmed individually pricing everything and tracking the added metrics?

Saying, “No,” to Free

I’m a fan of simplicity. Make the free things easy for me to find on your site and show me where your paid and premium content is hiding.

But if you slap a price tag on every piece of content, even $.50, you’ll see me raise guard. It’s not about being entitled to scrape freebies off everyone but perception is at play here.

You’re in business to make money but I vote to romance your visitors a bit. Woo them with some valuable content. Throw “Add To Cart” everywhere and you risk making them feel like they landed on a digital flea market instead of what could be their next favorite community (your site).

Some marketers have chosen to give up giving away free content entirely. Their loss. Think about the people that are in the early stages of browsing for whatever it is you offer. Without a little sampling of who you are and what they can expect from you how can they make an informed buying decision about you?

That’s why some of your best content should be shared freely. Not only will moving the free line with quality content put your best foot forward, but it’ll break down the barriers that can kill your sale.

From where I’m standing sitting, I say keep some things free. Charge for your powerhouse content but spread goodwill by giving out samples if you can. Let people sample your business, share their experience with their friends, comment on it or test drive it.

Why not? You stand the chance to win them over and retain them as a loyal, returning customer and make evangelists out of them.

How about you? Is it all-or-nothing where you’d charge for content but skip the free game? In your opinion, is there no reason to give freely?

Paid Content: Data vs. Experience

Let’s be honest, if people are coughing up money for every blurb of yours then you better be churning out some high-end content. You’d be surprised even at what people expect to get for just $5; money is money.

Will charging for your content make it dry, lack personality, and be all analysis and heavy talk? I think that the dynamic of having so many business website owners and bloggers sharing their content freely and giving trial-run demonstrations is we gain a rich experience.

Nowadays we enjoy seeing personality and personal stories infused into a company’s work.

Charging for content may take away the quips, fun fluff, or the occasional “a day in my life” article. Well, not if those things are what you offer. Maybe you’re OK with this.

You can hop across websites in just about any industry and see comments and engaged communities. You can download a PDF or see great value-only (no pitch) videos or listen to free podcasts that give you actionable advice. And guess what? You’ve probably purchased from some of these companies that led with free didn’t you?

I know I have.

Answer yourself honestly; if you had to pay to play there (wherever “there” may be), would you? That’s the barrier you’re dealing with when someone lands on your site if you’re nickel-and-diming them.

Your Move

You’re in business to earn revenue. The bills don’t pay themselves and food won’t automagically appear on your plate by wishing for it. Your website will have to earn somehow; be it through products, services or even affiliate marketing.

But where do you draw your content-charging line and are there personal values at play?

Which pay-based model or blend of all of them do you see yourself employing? I asked a lot of questions but share any relevant thoughts you have in the comments.

Photo: stevensnodgrass

26 Responses to To Pay, or Not to Pay For Content, That is the Question
  1. Allie
    March 2, 2011 | 9:45 am

    Interesting. (Meaty, lol.)
    For a premium membership on a site, one needs to brand themselves before making any move to paid content. Darren Rowse can get away with it but not Allie. (just thought I would use myself.)
    But with other paid/free content such as ebooks, for instance. Ebooks are everywhere, free and paid. A blogger still needs to be recognised in his own industry even to be taken serious for a free ebook to be launched.
    One thing I have been seeing lately is the idea that you get what you pay for. Old concept but new for bloggers. Free is not as good quality as premium. And bloggers are catching on to that. Free content is good but premium is way better, most of the time. Basically, you can get a much better lesson and experience when you pay for content as oppose to free. ???

    • Jon
      March 2, 2011 | 10:21 pm

      “Darren Rowse can get away with it but not Allie.” haha that got me. Well I think the intent is always there. Most marketers intend to over-deliver behind the paid wall but some don’t (sadly). Then again I’ve been let down after the purchase of an eBook that offered nothing more than rehashed information with no new spin on it. At least put a spin on it!

      Keep at it, Allie, and you’ll “get away with it” eventually :)

  2. Kevin Douglas
    March 2, 2011 | 10:05 pm

    I believe, like you Jon, if you are offering premium content, like videos and tutorials, AND it’s GOOD, I have no problem paying for the content. But, with so much free content that will teach you what you want to know, in the beginning paying for premium content is not really necessary.

    Premium content that I would be willing to pay for would be in a e-book or membership website. But, I have to have read the author’s free content before I even think about investing in their paid content. If I’ve been following you for awhile and have even communicated through Twitter or Facebook, I would definitely buy from you.

    It also depends on how I’m going to use that information that I purchased. How many products have people bought, read and never implemented or put into action? Information means nothing until it’s put into action.

    Great post, man!

    • Jon
      March 2, 2011 | 10:18 pm

      See and it’s interesting how you would buy after some interaction via Twitter and Facebook. It’s amazing how we all have our own rules of engagement, right? Some of us just need a convincing sales letter with a few testimonials and out comes the Visa! Good point about how many products have been purchased and “shelved” with zero action taken.

      If you’re going to invest the money – apply the strategies! Otherwise you really can’t have an opinion about the product or course you purchased. Thanks for your input, Kevin!

  3. Jk Allen
    March 3, 2011 | 2:00 am

    Jon – Great article…but before I proceed with my comment – let me first thank you for your continued support on my site. It’s aways nice seeing a fellow blogger friend (with a tie on) offering his valuable opinion every time I hit publish. I really appreciate it. And this post isn’t one of those “awe man, I own John comment”…I actually subscribe, and was going down my list.
    I’m one of those guys who doesn’t mind paying for content. I feel like to get value, you have to get it. So for free blogs, like all that I go to, I replay through my thanks and comment. For books and what not – I pay through money and reviews. I believe that giving off value – increases the value you get back in return. This being said, I have certainly purchased off of someone after receiving a free product. I love the model.

    Great post Jon. I really enjoyed learning this, I’m really trying to increase my web business IQ.

    Thank you!

    • Jon
      March 3, 2011 | 7:02 pm

      We tie-wearing-avatar-folk have to stick together, Jk! You’re welcome, I always keep an eye out for (and enjoy) your latest content so thank you for doing the same for mine. Man, I really like how you touched upon how we unknowingly “pay” by commenting and reviews. I completely agree with you that the more we give to others the more comes back.

      Always a pleasure to see you, thank you.

  4. Hector Avellaneda
    March 3, 2011 | 2:15 am

    Jon – great perspective! I love your “cyber flea market” analogy. It literally made me laugh! :)

    If we really think about it, the internet we know today is in its teenage years. There is so much room for growth and it continues to grow at some pretty astounding rates.

    There is is much content out there nowadays that it’s becoming harder and harder to put a price on what you have to say.

    I am definitely a believer in being able to make money form your content whether its an ebook, video, podcast, etc. As you mentioned, we al ready put in tons of hard work to produce it in the first place.

    If this is the approach you’re going to take, however, there has to be some established authority or credibility. People have to be able to instantly see the value and know the overall intentions you have with the deliverance of your content, at a glance. If there is any indication that the result is anything other than to enhance the lives or businesses or your market, there may be some resistance.

    • Jon
      March 3, 2011 | 7:21 pm

      Glad you got a chuckle out of it, hehe. Yes, good call. Some social proof or authority can go a long way to give visitors that warm and fuzzy feeling about your offerings. You said it well here, “ enhance the lives or businesses..” that statement holds us accountable to a higher standard and I like it. Thanks for your valuable insight, Hector.

    • Jk Allen
      March 3, 2011 | 10:53 pm

      What do you know Jon – we have another tie-wearer! Hector, in my book, is better know as “the man”.


  5. Patricia@lavender oil
    March 3, 2011 | 2:42 am

    Hi Jon

    Interesting topic. Just saw one of my blogging buddies discussing this on Twitter. He gives away heaps of free stuff and may now do membership site for small fee. Fair enough. People have seen the quality stuff he delivers and I’m sure the paid will be worth it.

    I have been in paid forums in the past. One was too overcrowded and I left within the month! The other was great but once I had got all the information I needed within the forum and made some great contacts, didn’t feel the need to stay.

    Now I know enough bloggers/marketers that I reckon I either will get help from them if needed and if they recommend a paid service I would take a look cos I trust them through building good relationships over time.

    As so much free information is now out there, hard to put a price on a lot of services. However, if it is worth it, happy to pay. We all have different needs so some are happy to pay for things I may not be, and vice versa.

    Patricia Perth Australia

    • Jon
      March 3, 2011 | 7:31 pm

      Hi Patricia, you have had similar experience with forums as I have. A couple of them I joined were overrun with people that didn’t seem to take instruction or criticism well nor were they all that determined. Also like you, I left a few communities shortly after learning about as much as I felt I would learn.

      You bring up a great point about following the recommendations of trusted people in your network. You don’t buy every new and shiny course that’s released but if a knowledgeable peer gives a product the green light, you’ll consider it. Great comment, Patricia.

  6. Sarah Russell
    March 3, 2011 | 10:05 am

    Personally, I like to keep a very clear line between what’s free content and what’s paid content. Articles that give you a teaser paragraph and then expect you to pay some amount to finish reading piss me off :)

    But moving to a paid forum model is difficult as well, because it takes a *lot* more work than most people think to make it worth members’ time. Not only do you have to deliver on the free end of things out front, you’ve also got to encourage the community, provide ongoing premium content and so on.

    That’s why I usually stick with one-off paid products (ebooks, paid courses, etc). I give away a lot of free info, sure, but you’re right that the bills have to be paid. I just don’t like there to be ambiguity, either with whether or not you’ll have to pay to finish a piece of content or whether or not a paid forum membership will be worth the fee.

    • Jon
      March 3, 2011 | 8:07 pm

      Hey Sarah! Yep, reading a paragraph and being prompted to pay to read the rest can be a drag. The way you describe your approach is very “clean.” You spell out exactly what’s free and what isn’t. People that come to love your content will most likely naturally convert to buyers to get closer to you and see your premium goods.

      Forums are a lot of work. Combine that with running a free blog and promoting all of it and you’ve got your hands full. Especially since you can’t hide behind a monthly fee exclusively; you’ll have to come up for air to promote the community because there will always be unsubscribes. So even with a paid model you’ll still wind up giving sample content or adding to the workload by promotion.

      Great link at inoveryourhead, I just read the article. Thank you!

  7. Sarah Russell
    March 3, 2011 | 12:08 pm

    Oooh – sorry for the double comment, but thought you might find this article interesting in light of this discussion:

  8. Jayne
    March 30, 2011 | 10:10 pm

    Hi Jon, you know, I totally agree that blogging does not pay the bills (alone)… but with all the FREE information on the internet these days I don’t think charging is a terrific move for ‘most’ bloggers. (for content that is).

    you know, I was thinking about some of the terrific content available on some blogs these days… and although I am a proponent of generosity and sharing information freely, one has to wonder if perhaps all the ‘free’ has not taken away from the earning potential (in the way of content that is).

    I mean it takes work to put together a real meaty post (in most cases) and bloggers like authors put in the time and effort. All of our time is worth something.

    Personally… for ‘me’… charging would not be a consideration (lol)… as I envision a line up of people holding $5.00 bills….waiting to knock down the walls of my blog. (ok snap out of it self)

    Funnily, I have purchased courses (as you have) and e0books and all that have been pure crap. I have seen the same information… or better on blogs.

    with that said, I recently bought a program to do with affiliate marketing for cheap, cheap, cheap… and I swear I would pay the guy quadruple for it.

    YOu can never determine the value I suppose ahead of time, but with the high caliber blogs these days, one would be hard pressed to get too far charging for their content.

    If they did and it wasn’t worth it… that would bring an early end to their traffic.
    Thanks for the post… you made me ponder..


    • Jon
      March 31, 2011 | 6:01 pm

      Hi Jayne,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. There is no shortage of great information out there for free and there is twice as much (or more) spam and misinformation. It’s overwhelming for any of us learning a new skill or craft to wade through the sea of junk and find quality information and training.

      It seems you and I are more of the pay for premium content camp. We don’t slap price tags on our regular, drip-fed goodness but when we put together a large scale product or community then we can justify a fee.

      A product that flops can hurt you in the short-term, BUT, I believe you turn it around by sharing the experience with your audience. Chances are they’d be willing to tell you where you went wrong.

  9. Oliver Tausend
    March 31, 2011 | 1:56 pm

    Hi Jon,

    my blog is to designed to inform interested people about all questions around the topics lead generation, personal development and financial intelligence in MLM/network marketing. I showcase my experience, personal stories viewed from the angle of my main topics and occasional how-to-videos.

    So its purpose is to brand myself and to offer my help to people who are struggling in this industry (there are plenty) or simply are looking for answers. A certain portion of them joins me in my business, another portion simply wants help and they get it from our team, for free and forever, if necessary. I’m fine with both.

    So I signalize my prospects clearly that they can keep thier credit card in their pocket. You won’t find any affiliate link on my blog where people could spend money on.

    They can download a free e-book that doesn’t contain any affiliate links either.

    The issue with selling information products on the internet is that you can get any type of information – bad one and good one – for free. People who spend money on them simply haven’t looked carefully enough ;-) Sooner or later they will find out and then we lost a client.

    This game never ends.

    To me, it’s incredibly freeing to offer free help regardless if they join my business or not. Some of them eventually join, voluntarily.

    What do you think ?

    Take care


    • Jon
      March 31, 2011 | 5:52 pm

      Hi Oliver,

      Thank you for such an in-depth answer and your honesty.

      You and I agree that most, if not all, the information people seek can be found for free. What I believe is, and feel free to disagree, it’s completely fine to package it all together for them and sell it to them. This is just supply and demand. People are willing to pay for the information formatted for them; no research involved. Sure, they shell out a few dollars and miss out on the benefits of learning how to research but it’s a direct shot to a solution.

      Do I think that all the infoproducts out there are created with the end user’s satisfaction in mind? Nope. I know there are a lot more profit-driven people than genuinely helpful people. I also believe that not all content should be for a fee (my content here is free as is yours).

      I don’t believe in putting up a pay wall between all of your content and the reader. Unless it’s something that truly required you to go well above and beyond (hours of video, hours of audio interviews, PDF worksheets; etc. think: premium forum/community) then share it freely.

      You’re doing an admirable thing with your business, Oliver. It’s working for you so keep at it :)

  10. Stacy
    March 31, 2011 | 4:56 pm


    What a great topic of discussion! I enjoyed your post and all of the replies. Personally I have put out three free ebooks and I keep getting great feedback. The one that I released last week even received the comment that I had “over delivered” – and this was an ebook that I had simply taken from my blog posts on the topic.

    I am working on an ebook to sell and I am really planning to over deliver on this one. I won’t be using anything from my blog posts (except to link to a post when relevant). With this being my first paid product I am looking at it as a learning experience and a first step to many more.

    Thanks for sharing,

    • Jon
      March 31, 2011 | 5:41 pm


      Congrats on pumping out the ebooks and over-delivering! So you re-purposed your already existing content, organized it into one volume for convenience, and people appreciated you for it: win! It may not seem like much to you but when you do the work of connecting all the dots for someone else and it strikes a chord with them, they won’t soon forget you.

      Best wishes with your first paid product! We can tell you’re in this for the long haul so I’m looking forward to hearing more about its release.

  11. Jane | Find All Answers
    April 1, 2011 | 1:20 am

    Hey Jon,

    Loved this post. You have talked about business ethics here. It is true that we MUST offer value for free before selling stuff. And, all of it cannot be charged, unless we are having an IKEA website.

    People have to trust in our expertise, the knowledge, they must be able to see our portfolio.

    Excellent post.


    • Jon
      April 1, 2011 | 11:09 pm


      Sounds like you and I are on the same page. We seem to be fans of engaging first, building trust, and letting people take our content and ideas for a test drive. When it comes time to sell, our communities will already know if they’re on board with us or not because the value will have already been established.

      Thank you, Jane.

  12. Janet @ The Natural Networker
    April 1, 2011 | 3:57 pm

    Jon, aloha. Provocative post with great responses in the comment section. Congratulations for truly stirring the pot.

    Like Oliver, my blog is more to brand me and to let people know who I am. The purpose of my blog is to start building relationships.

    That being said, I do have a few affiliate links on my blog for items that I personally use and recommend.

    Because there is so much free info out there, I believe it is necessary to show people who you are and what you do. Why should I pay a person anything who is unwilling to show me the quality of their work/knowledge when there are so many quality producers who will give me a sneak peek for free?

    That being said, if it is free, it better be free all the way. If I start to read and then must pay to finish it . . . well, let’s just say I don’t pay.

    In terms of how much to pay for something, that obviously is up to each individual in terms of how they perceive the value.

    The bigger question that so many people fail to ask is how much is it costing them not to learn or take action? Put that, price considerations change.

    Look forward to checking back to read more responses. Alohs. Janet

    • Jon
      April 1, 2011 | 11:06 pm

      Thanks, Janet!

      Ahh…I like that you mentioned the “bigger question.” How much IS it costing the individual to not learn or take action? Fantastic point.

      There is a plethora of absolutely free information; no question. While I think some people are making it work, I’m with you on disliking the “tease.” I don’t like getting a sample and then hitting a pay wall. That bugs me. Just like you, I’m either all free or I will clearly state if it’s an affiliate promotion or product for sale. No teasers.

      Great input as always, Janet…

  13. Niclas Johansson
    April 1, 2011 | 6:46 pm

    Hi Jon!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking questions you’re asking in this post. What WOULD I be willing to charge for? It does strike a nerve – “could I, should I, would I?” – and my gut reaction tells me that the creation and distribution of content is more of a branding/marketing activity balanced by the physical stuff or personal services that I sell. In that way I’m not leaning towards the traditional IM camp.

    Have you followed Gary Vaynerchuk? He puts emphasis on media/brand/eyeballs, building authority and then sales come as a side effect. Of course, he also focused on tangible products for a long time. I guess it’s two sides of the same coin – what matters in the end is that we conduct ourselves with integrity and authenticity. I applaud you for blazing a trail in your direction, it’s inspiring!

    Again, thanks for a fascinating read.

    Happy weekend,
    Niclas J

    • Jon
      April 1, 2011 | 11:13 pm

      Hi Niclas,

      Yes I am certainly familiar with Gary Vee :) If you’re modeling your business after him then I say keep at it because he’ll lead you well. You nailed it; conducting ourselves with integrity and authenticity nourishes our brand. This is a magnetic way to compel more eyeballs to keep watching you and sales come a whole lot easier after authority is built.

      Thank you for the encouragement, Niclas. Enjoy your weekend.

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