How to Price Free

People just love free stuff. Free is one of the most valuable marketing tools a blogger has. For a blogger, the cost of free is, well, pretty much free (sans your time). The trick to pricing free is that something has to make up for all that free stuff you give away.

Pricing Free

Now, I know this seems a little weird to talk about pricing free but bear with me for a second. What I mean is that the free stuff you give away has to be balanced by the stuff that people can buy. You also need to price this free content so you can really figure out what it’s worth to a customer. Consider the price of your free material as the additional price adder you have to add to your product offerings. These free offerings are what you hope will entice your customers to fork over their hard earned money for your products.
Some products are easier to give away free than others. Usually, these products are ones where the cost of production rounds to zero. Some of the products that bloggers can give away for free include:

  • Free eBooks: Some bloggers will give away the eBook version of their physical book for free to give customers the ability to value the content by eventually paying for it. This not only lets customers “try before they buy” but gives you valuable marketing insights into what sells.
  • Free Advice: Most of us that blog are really giving our readers free advice or commentary on certain subjects. If you make this advice high quality, then your readers will be enticed to purchase other materials from you. Think about that every time you post to your blog.
  • Free Guest Posts: Guests posts are as free as posting on your blog. It can sometimes be hard to get a guest post but you should endeavor to try. A high quality guest post, on a high traffic site will be the best use of your time.
  • Free Reviews or Comparisons or Compatibility Reports: Reviews can be a great free technique since usually people that stumble upon a review want to buy something.
  • Free Pod Casts: Audio is a little more expensive than plain blogging but is still a good free strategy if the cost of production is not too out of control. Typical free Pod Casts include excerpts from longer, paid for material.
  • Free How to Videos: Snippets or “commercials” of a video will cost you more than posting but will reach a different audience that might not want to read your blog posts.
  • Free Manuals: Physical manuals or how-to-guides can be a little pricy to purchase but most people that are looking into how-to-do something usually want more details. So, giving away some of the manual for free (maybe as an eBook) is a good way to make up for the price of free on the full manual.
  • Free Music: Depending on the quality, music is pretty cheap and is a great way to get people exposed to what you can do.
  • Free Software: A trial or limited version of software is a pretty cheap way to allow potential customers to sample before they buy. If you provide a web based solution, then the free trial is your single best free marketing tool.
  • Free Movies: Movies are expensive to produce but shorts or trailers are effective ways to get people interested in the full version.

Looking at all the options, it’s kind of obvious that when you price your free stuff, the costs to produce and distribute it is a critical factor. As you can see, the list above contains no “physical” products. It’s all just bits that once produced, can be reproduced really cheap. This is the critical part about pricing free – you want to give away products that are cheap for you to make and distribute but are part of bigger products. This means that your “free price” is actually reflected in your product price.

The Real Price of Free

I am sure you have gathered by now that we really don’t price free. Rather, we have to price our products to reflect our free offerings. These free offerings need to drive the customer to buy our other products. In order to support your free products, consider some of the methods that available to support your give-a-ways:

  • Advertisements: Ads are a reasonably good way to at least cover your baseline costs. Ads really start to kick in when your traffic volume goes up. So, this method may work in the long run but your free offerings really have to drive traffic (which is kind of the point anyway).
  • Affiliate Sales: Selling products that you write about is a more targeted way to cover your free offerings. Affiliate programs can also cater to your target market, which allows for more conversions.
  • Premium Content: Video, Pod Casts, Interactive Forums: Some free content is just excerpts from premium content that allows the customer to taste a little bit about what might be inside. When pricing this kind of free offering, it’s important to give away some of the quality content so that potential customers can see real value.
  • Books: Authors give away pieces of their printed books in order to give readers a better sense of what’s inside. When you free content is backed up by something a customer can buy, then the price of free may be that your book sales will only take off once customers can share more of the content with their friends.
  • Subscriptions: Free content is a great way to get customers to subscribe to your service. In this case, the free offering needs to directly relate to the subscription service and allow a deeper, richer experience. The price of free in this case may be allowing free trails or having some key opinion leaders on your subscription site for free.
  • Speaking Engagements / Seminars: Speaking gigs usually result from being an expert in some area. Your free content should give you the credibility to charge audiences for your time. So, the price of free would be the time it takes you to generate the free content.
  • Full Length Movies / Music: A trailer or sampler can be just enough of a hook for a customer to buy the full length album or feature. In this case, the price of free is really just in making the trailer or sample – the full length feature is already going to be made.
  • Premium Software: Since the cost of manufacturing software rounds to zero, the price of a premium software product as it relates to the free version is a matter of how much features and functions the free ones has. If you have too much free function, then that will encroach on sales but you can also limit the full version free trail to some fixed amount of time.

Free is Not That Free

For the content creator, giving away your content for free is a tool to sell your premium content. When pricing your free content, remember to look at the creation costs and the manufacturing/distribution costs. Strive to give away content that is essentially free to manufacture and distribute. That way, the cost adders to your premium content (the stuff people pay for) can be kept in check.

Jarie Bolander

Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is presently working on breakthrough technology that will reduce medical errors. Jarie also volunteers with SCORE (http://www.sfscore.org), a national organization that helps small businesses succeed. When not volunteering or at his day job, he can be found running or biking through Golden Gate Park or swimming in San Francisco Bay. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at http://www.thedailymba.com and is working on a book on technical management that will be published by http://booklocker.com You can also follow him on Twitter: @thedailymba 

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