So, the question is this …
Would you rather put out your work for free and gain a large audience or sell your work at full price and hopefully hit 100 unit sales?
Before you answer the question internally, I will attempt to present the case for allowing your work to be pirated, and then you’re free to make your own decisions after that.
The Pirate Bay
For those who are familiar with piracy know about The Pirate Bay, BitTorrent and uTorrent. These are the premier sites and gateways to conduct all kinds of content piracy that covers distribution to consumption. Old movies, to the latest music releases and digital books, it has everything that one can dream of consuming (inclusive of porn).
Although these topics remain ostensibly juicy, I’ll choose to remain PG-13 for the remainder of this article, and will not delve into the darker realms of these pirate sites.
Looking back at most of the old music artists that I used to follow religiously like Maroon 5 and Coldplay, I can trace most of the songs that I’ve heard in the early days to pirating them off sites like the pirate bay or through some form of filesharing amongst friends.
When it comes to most things in life, free is always good. But, you know the famous saying, there’s no such thing as a free lunch in life.
And it’s true …
Sacrifices Creators Make During Producing Great Work
It’s takes us less than 5 minutes to consume a song on spotify, but it takes months to record, edit and to engineer the song to ensure that the listener enjoys the full ear-gasmic experience. The media waxes lyrical on Ed Sheeran’s song writing prowess, but no one truly knows how much finetuning it takes to bring his 5-minute wonders to the airwaves successfully.
That is a huge investment to make just to record one song. Revisiting the pain of sitting around the recording studio just to get the chorus right or the rift perfect weighs heavily on music creators big and small.
It extends to anyone building a new product as well. The excruciating pain that the entrepreneur and the developing team will experience is not something that can be swept away easily. And so, to release your finest work for free? You might as well be committing a cardinal sin.
It is a bridge that not everyone is willing to cross. But, they must, if they can.
Sacrifices Consumers Make Consuming Great Work
It’s easy to take the side of the creator and to say that they should never publish anything for free, and rightfully so!
But what people fail to consider is the opportunity cost that a consumer has to rationalise in their head before deciding to consume your work. If your work takes hours to consume, a consumer must decide if it is worth it to spend those hours consuming your work compared to the troves of content out there in the world. Not to mention that they are giving up time that can spent with their loved ones and friends.
On top of that, a consumer has to contend with the decision to buy your product, to use money that they could be well spent on food and shelter to purchase your product.
So, to say “I have to charge top dollar for my product because I bled for this.” Is not only selfish, but it shows a true lack of empathy for your dream customers’ decision making.
What is the sacrifice that we have to make?
Why Free Is The Way To Go
Free helps lower the barrier to customer acquisition. It lulls the consumer into a false sense of thinking, “heck it’s free, just go for it”. Before long, you’ve earned yourself an addict that craves for your work!
Just think about how many of us bung off our friends’ Netflix accounts and Spotify accounts? Heck, I know I do, I’ve spent almost 2 years straight trying out different pirated Spotify accounts till I got sick of the anxiety of waking up to a Spotify premium account that was suddenly taken away from me.
I now pay full price for my Spotify account … Under a friend’s family account 😛.
We’re all cheapstakes.
Look at TED. The only reason why they command a huge audience with so many spinoff TEDx events is because they started out offering free content. I’m positive that TED would not be as popular as they are now if they charged for their content from the get go.
Think about some of the bands that you now listen to. If you’ve bought some of their merchandise or attended their concert, chances are that you first heard about them on a free platform like YouTube or the radio.
Free is all fun and good, but when does free not work?
When Free, Fails
Generally, when dealing with services, free does not always work and should not work. When you’re starting out as a budding designer, doing design work for free does help you grow your portfolio and get essential design reps in.
But once you have established your practice, you should never do free because it cheapens your service in the eyes of your prospective client and they will always see you as that cheap alternative instead of the person that is there to solve their problems.
It’s dangerous stuff you’re dealing with.
Going free often times aids you in acquiring a fan base, but I must caveat that free is not a long-term strategy. No one can avoid the financial aspect of creating works, unless it is a hobby.
If you want to make money off any creative work, there will come a point in time where you need to start charging.
Turning a profit is essential for survival, there’s no way in hell that you can sustain losses for a prolonged period of time and come out of that hole unscathed. You need to turn a profit as some point of time, unless you want to die poor and hungry just like how Vincent Van Gogh did.
We all want to be compensated for our work. Hell, It’d be nice to be compensated for writing week in and week out.
But, I know that the allure of money upfront isn’t all there is to building a readership that craves your work. When you’re out there trying to create a business that lasts a lifetime, most of the time, giving away your work for free might just be what you need to attain early adoption.
Right now, I would kill to have someone pirate my work. It just means that I’ve created something worthy enough to be pirated, that’s a huge feat for me!
To anyone out there, go ahead and pirate what I have to say. Just leave Ryan Holiday’s name and my name in it. Thank you!
Till next week!