Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Price of Content

I've been pondering the value of content today. Actually, not the value but rather the price. The eternal question, of course, remains whether or not content should be free. With all content being digital and the cost of goods and distribution converging down to zero, it is a tempting proposition. The consumers want it and the authors and publishers fight it to death. This tug of war has been going on for years.

Today, a lot of content is already free. Whereas, some LOOKS free while in reality it is not. Based on its price, there are three main types of content:

1. Free content – the quality of this free content can vary from highly professional to poor. This free content is being created for different reasons:
  • a) Content created by amateurs for the pleasure of creating it. If you share your family pictures on Flickr or if you write a blog about your bird-watching hobby, you are creating content for pleasure.
  • b) Content created by professionals for motives other than money – prestige, recognition, need to share etc. This is the category into which most blogs fall, written by professionals related to their work – like the blog you are reading right now. Also, content created under the Creative Commons license falls into this category.
  • c) Content created by professionals to directly promote other products or services. This includes any marketing web site, catalog or advertisement which may be some of the most costly content assets of all, considering the high production and placement costs.
  • d) Content originaly created by professionals as premium content, but with copyrights either expired or donated into the public domain. This content includes all the works of old masters such as copyright-free e-books or classical music.
2. Content with indirect price - this content does not have a direct price tag but there is a clear indirect price associated with it:
  • a) Content that seems free but you pay for indirectly, with your time and attention. It includes any free content that is subsidized by advertizing. Most news and magazine media sites are financed this way which is not surprising as that's exactly what they do in the physical world.
  • b) Content created by professionals in the pursuit of money. This content doesn't have a direct price but the indirect price in form of labor cost can be quite high and is paid with the expectation that it enables a revenue stream. This is about office documents, emails, spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks that the knowledge workers create, share, and consume every day.
3. Premium content – here, the content is the product. This is content that has an explicit price either à la carte or though some package or subscription fee. This can be about consumer content or about business content. iTunes songs and movies are priced à la carte while Audible also offers e-books through a subscription. An analyst report can be purchased as part of an annual package fee and the design plans for a new building might be part of the overall construction cost.

As we can see, not all content that looks free is really free. And not all content that is created by professionals is premium content. All the content (well, at least most of it) has value, all of it has cost of creation but not all of it costs money.


  1. I think there at least a couple of extra categories under free content: public domain, and philanthropy.

    Works created by professionals (or amateurs) which have had their copyright expire. Unfortunately some large companies continue to successfully lobby to have the life of copyright extended, robbing the public by preventing their works from entering the public domain. See

    Professionals or amateurs who create and donate their work because they want to make the world a better place, aka philanthropy.

    A good example site the covers both of these types is Project Gutenberg where people volunteer their editing, and even audio recording, works that have entered into the public domain, so that they can be easily shared with the world.

  2. Interesting contemplation. I think that especially when it comes to social media people tend to think it is free without considering the price for good content. This cost could simply be an opportunity cost for doing something else that might even bring higher ROI. That's why having clear objectives and measuring against them is so important. Great blog post.

  3. I agree Lubor - the Price of content is certainly not the same as its Value as you say at the outset. Further, the Value of content is only loosely related its Cost (of production). In business one would hope that the Cost < Value

  4. I have updated the post based on some of the comments I have received.