Can You Afford to Work For Free?

It may surprise, shock and appall you to read this, but I don’t spend every waking hour writing. Some of it I spend reading, working the SEO beat and wrangling kittens, but a fair chunk of it is spent on computer games.

Football Manager 10 to be specific, and managing Dinamo Vrange to be precise. So as you can appreciate I’ve spent time in various forums. What I’ve seen in my favoured forum is a situation that should serve as a warning to anyone creating content.

They’ve shown me that if you ever want to make money, you can’t afford to work for free.

For years, the team at FM-B (including Copyblogger guest Jordan Cooper) have created an invaluable guide to the game. Tactical tips and tricks distilled from their own experiences and experimentations. Every year, the updated version of the guide is released to a rapturous reception. Except this year.


Because they’ve decided that their effort should be rewarded. So they’ve slapped a price tag on it. £7.50.

Not unreasonable, you might think? I mean, how much would most copywriters charge for seventy-odd pages of well written copy that fulfils a very real need and engages with an audience perfectly?

The problem is that they’ve been offering this for free for the past few years. And while the forum stalwarts and vocal admirers have forked up the cash, the people who never comment or say thanks are coming out of the woodwork to complain.

So what does that mean for copywriters and bloggers?

It means that if you’re an established blogger looking to make some cash from your content, you need to be prepared for all those returning visitors who never comment to suddenly become very vocal and very angry. Those thousand unique hits a month aren’t going to turn into a thousand sales. Your detractors will be the minority, but you should never expect all the people who will take your advice for free to be willing to pay for it.

And if you’re a copywriter just starting out – don’t fall in to the trap of doing work for free just to get established. Always charge a fair price for fair work. People automatically link cost with quality. Why would they pay you for the sort of content you churn out for free? Especially when that guy charges a fortune. That must mean he’s far better, right?

And if you’re just a Football Manager addict who’s stumbled upon this by accident, buy FM Britain’s latest eBook. Then tell them they owe me commission.

4 Comments comments for "Can You Afford to Work For Free?"

  1. I guess a lot of of people will start off doing something for fun, but that it might end up taking more and more time.

    I suppose there might come a point where one has to decide that you are either going to have to charge, or stop doing it.

    It always amuses me the degree to which people get mad because someone is no longer going to give them something for free! Senses of entitlement and all that.
    .-= Ralph Ferrett´s last blog ..TV Advert hell! =-.

    • Andrew says:

      I suppose that’s the flip side to things like Wikipedia. Reams of content all available for nothing, made by thousands of nameless, faceless volunteers.

      When you’re used to that, it’s easy to dismiss anyone asking for payment, or even trying to claim intellectual property rights, as either ripping you off or being an egotist.

      It’s also the tangibility element. If I go out and buy a book, I’m paying for a physical object I can hold and leaf through. I buy an ebook, and essentially all I’m paying for is content. And as I’ve covered here before, any old idiot can write “content”.

  2. Thomas Levin says:

    But the business model that FM Britain has been going for over the past couple of months is the freemium model. Offer free content and then that gives extra value to the content that we ask people to pay for. What you get from CPW is:

    a whole module of the game in one package, easy to read and from people with a reputation of producing good content before now.

    If we didn’t offer free content we wouldn’t have a market to sell to in the first place. The reputation and value that has been built up over 5 years has given FM Britain the platform for this product. TT10 was free but itself was a marketing tool for CPW for those with a little bit of savvy you can see how.

    FM Britian will continue to offer good quality free content as always with premium products that we can put a monetary value on. Hoping that people get the same value from those product again.

    The lesson is to know the niche in which you are selling in. We are trying to sell a product in a niche that no one has ever been charged for content before, so when you drift from the norm it is going to cause unrest.

    But we are not marketing to those loud people that don’t want to pay for things. We are aiming our product to those who find value in having all this content well written by people who know there stuff and is put in one nice 77 page package. There is a silent majority that doesn’t mind paying for something that will add value to them and their FM gaming.

    We will make no secret that plenty of what is in the book is freely avaliable online if you know where to look. But people can put value on time as well.

    The site as many blogs should be was born from a passion for the game and its tactics. No intention was it 5 years ago to make money from the site. But to move the site forward and to offer more free content as well as other services we think will help the FM game, we decided to bring some cash through the doors. We won’t be running off on holiday with the money made from this book.

    Do you think without the free content anyone would be willing to pay for CPW in the first place?
    .-= Thomas Levin´s last blog ..The Benefits of Tutoring =-.

    • Andrew says:

      I’ll gloss over how much I hate words like “Freemium”, and get into the meat of your post.

      I know that FM-B was never intended to sell, it’s just the way that the site’s evolved. My point is that if you’re planning on providing paid for content from the start, then you need to make it clear to avoid alienating part of your readership. No, you’ll never sell to the shouting tight-fisted types, but you can reduce the number of complainers. Again, FM-B is a special case – established for 5 years, etc – but it does illustrate my point that going from free to fee isn’t as easy and productive as you might hope.

      As for the benefits of free content – no, if FM-B had never offered top quality free content, it wouldn’t be able to sell now. However, had it always offered quality free content alongside optional quality paid-for content, there wouldn’t have been such a backlash from the angry shouty “online information should be free” types.

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