I think it was Tim Ferriss who once said that one of the easiest and best products to sell is information. Ergo, information publishing has emerged as one of the hot business prospects for those who dream of financial and geographical independence. But at the same time Stewart Brand and his band of technology activists once insisted that “information wants to be free.” And this, I suppose, is where the challenge is for information publishers; they are charging for something that seeks to be free.
The way I see it, we really have the Web to thank for all of these things that make information publishing possible -- the ruthless discombobulation of existing business models which created opportunities for newer, fresher business paradigms to supplant them, as well as the emergence of technologies and platforms that make new ideas and modes of execution possible. Paradoxically, it is also the frictionless fluidity of the Web that is, in a big part, to blame for the confusion about information being free. After all, there is nothing you cannot find on the Web, given the time and the motivation and the savvy to search for it.
But perhaps this is where the distinction lies. Sure anyone can get information for free, eventually, as long as he or she is willing to spend time and effort searching for it. And maybe the information will be of high quality, but chances are it will be raw and in need of some massaging in order for it to be useful. This is where information publishers earn their keep. There is information, which I agree is for the most part free, and then there is the value of information, which people are willing to spend for. Information, per se is like raw material that needs to be processed into a marketable product. Information publishers add value to the information by organizing it, adding insights to it and packaging it according to the needs of the target audiences. For this, they deserve to get paid.
Here, then, are two crucially important points for you to keep in mind as you create your information product.
Find a Real Problem to Solve
Find something that someone needs done. The more people share this need, the better for you. Remember, you can always write an e-book about underwater basket-weaving. But are there enough people in the world who would want or need such a resource? On the other hand, if you can dig up some new information about how to quit smoking, you will surely find ready buyers, and for years to come.
Leverage Information to Solve It in a Unique Way
This is where you earn your keep; this is the part where you build the value that people will gladly pay for. This is where “free” ends and your payday begins. Organize, package and present the information so that it is immediately actionable on the part of the target audience. Remember, information is an intangible concept that no one truly understands. Your job is to make people understand that they are set to reap some very tangible benefits by using the information you have prepared.
And that, I think, is how you can sell free information at a premium price.
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