Freepreneuring: 5 Ways to Monetize Free Content

Sunday, November 4, 2007 at 10:00am by Site Administrator

With a shift towards free content online, no doubt many entrepreneurs are wondering how they can bootstrap their business if they are not going to draw any sales revenue. It’s a scary thought.

I don’t profess to have a solid answer, but I do have some ideas. Here are a few ways that you can still monetize your startup, even while offering free content or services.

  1. Advertising. TV and radio were always based on free content supported by advertising. At least until Cable/ pay per view and satellite radio came along. If you are offering only free content, consider monetizing your website with relevant ads – preferably those sold direct, on a CPM (Cost per Mille, e.g., 1000) basis of pageviews.
  2. Freemium. The freemium pricing model seem to be popular with web applications providers. General access is free, but the features that make the application efficient for the target end users cost a few dollars per month. One non-web app that has scored millions of users worldwide with this model is Skype, the desktop VoIP software.
  3. Subscriptions/ pay per view. Build a subscription site where premium content is only accessible by members. This does require that you have initial free content to draw potential subscribers, and for you to build your authority online, in your niche. If you’re successful, the numbers are worthwhile. For example, several marketing sites charge $197-299/year, and offer very high quality content that is essential to some professionals. While building up your membership list, you might supplement with advertising.
  4. Freedom to pay. This is what Radiohead did: pay what you like. Stupid or brilliant? You decide. I was unable to find the “buy” link on their official site and ended up downloading someone else’s low quality copy. Very low quality. But I’m a Radiohead fan and would have paid anyway. And of course, if I’m in a city where they’re going to plan, I’m even more likely to go see these guys. This monetization model is very similar to “shareware” for software.
  5. Buyout. if you have enough capital to build your brand/ presence online, and gain substantial eyeballs in the form of free content subscribers, selling to the highest bidder is a great option. For bootstrappers, this has to be preceded by one of the other forms above, else you’re not likely to have enough capital on hand to reach this stage.

With the exception of maybe freemium and freedom to pay, none of these are all that new. Which monetization model you choose (or a combo) depends on what it is you’re giving away – knowledge or services. Products, on the other hand, are hard to monetize with any of these models.


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