Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Giving it away - a business model

Making money by giving things away free seems, on the face of it, to be a contradiction. But I have recently noticed several people who have done just this - and done it with great success.

But first an example of the traditional business model. This morning I found a podcast about a subject I was interested in. Naturally, I started listening to it. I hoped to get some free advice from a person who knows what he is talking about. What I actually heard was a sales pitch for a workshop from person who apparently knows what he is talking about. He hinted at the content of his workshop without actually giving any details. The method was named but not described.

And who could blame him? If I could get the content for free, why would I sign up for the course? This is the traditional business model.

But here are three examples of people who have become successful through giving things away for free.

1) David Blaine the street magician. Think back before the endurance stunts. He made his name by approaching people on the street and giving free magic shows. And not just the casual coin disappearing stuff that your uncle does to amuse the kids. These were sophisticated illusions which must have taken much time and effort to perfect and set up.

Of course, he had someone with a camera there to film it all. And he would later sell the show to TV stations. But at the point of origin, he was apparently giving something away.

2) How about the graffiti artist Banksy? Sneaking out in the night and spray painting works of art onto people's walls. Giving it away. Take a close look at his work and it becomes clear that a huge amount of thought, preparation and skill goes into what he does. People who find a Banksy on something that belongs to them can go and sell it if they want. It could easily be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

The public interest he has generated through this is so huge that money must be pouring in. I bought a copy of his book so I could enjoy the pictures. The very wealthy might buy an original canvas.

3) And if that doesn't convince you, how about the film maker Chris Jones? His blog is like a masterclass in the film industry. There is no sense that he is holding things back so we will be more inclined to buy one of his books or go to one of his workshops. He is open and frank about the projects he is involved with.

I have no idea if this was his idea from the start, but when he needed money to make a short film, he simply asked for £50 from everyone. And such was the respect his readers and other contacts held him in that they gave freely. The money came in and the film Gone Fishing was made. (I'm sure you already know, it reached the final shortlist of 10 films for the Oscars).

The outstanding feature of each of the above examples is that the artists didn't give away their leftovers. They gave away the very best.


Paul Lamb said...

I understand the poet Rod McKuen used to stand at traffic lights and give away his poems until he built up a reputation and got a publishing contract. I suppose he could say he already had thousands of readers when he pitched the book proposal.

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks for sharing that, Paul. I hadn't heard about that one.