Content as Product Vs Content as a Hook

Reviewing the Gary V. Vook led to a key realization –

  • For some people like Gary V and for some companies – content is a hook. It’s just a way to get people in and sell them other stuff.
  • For other people like authors and bloggers content is a product in itself.

What happens when Content is Your Product?

A few things actually –

  1. You have to keep its value intact. 
  2. You have to compete with people who are using content as a hook i.e. giving it away for free. 
  3. You have to safeguard it from people who’ll try to steal it i.e. for their own site. 
  4. You have to be aware of people who’ll try to fool you into giving away the farm.

The companies that have content as their main product include newspapers, book-sellers, authors, musicians, and so forth.

What happens when Content is what you use to lure customers?

You take a very different approach –

  1. First, you try to get people to provide content for free. This is the grand ‘user generated content’ concept.  
  2. Next, you try to steal it – content should be free and all that good stuff.
  3. If those don’t work, you try to devalue it to the point that it’s very, very cheap.
  4. If all those fail you hire writers to mass produce sub-quality content.

A company that just uses content as a lure will always focus their expertise on the product they are selling.

That means that neither their effort nor their expertise lies in content and it suits them to devalue it.

The users disrupt the balance between Content Creators and Product Sellers

Normally the pressure applied by companies trying to get free content will be balanced by the pushback from content creators. Quality content obviously costs a lot and content creators can’t just give it away.

However, the balance gets completely disrupted when customers come into play.

Here’s why –

Customers, if given the option to consume content for free, and a rationalization that justifies free content, would take it.  

In plain English – If  you told a customer ebooks are cheap to produce they would be OK paying just $1 (or nothing) for them.

Think about what benefits Content as a Hook companies

These are companies, not Mother Teresa. Here’s what they’ll try –  

  • To devalue content so that they have lots of cheap content to lure customers – customers to whom they sell other things.
  • To push the notion that the real value is in what they provide and that content is meaningless.
  • To push the notion that content is worthless.

They will also ally with customers. That’s the angle that’s hard to beat.

Customers buy ‘Content is Worthless’ because it lets them Be the Good Guys

No one wants to say –

I don’t pay for music or books – I’m cheap, don’t care about content creators, etc.

When a company that wants to devalue content pushes the notion that content has very little value OR that information should be free, it suits customers to believe it.

They can then be the good guys –

Information should be free. Books cost next to nothing anyways. Musicians make money from concerts anyways. I’m the good guy and content companies are evil.

This is the rather amusing aspect of human nature – Even when we do something wrong, we want to be able to lie to ourselves and interpret it as good.

This need for congruence i.e. most people cannot do evil and admit it – is the only hope for content creators.

How Content Creators can let customers do Good.

People always find a way to rationalize what they want and their self-interest – UNLESS there are hard facts and norms that force them to accept the truth and be Good.

Here are a few things – most of these need to be done.

  1. Create an eco-system where paying for content is the norm. iTunes and Kindle Store are a big hope.  
  2. Put a human face on content companies i.e. show struggling writers and have them talk, and not lawyers for big six publishers. 
  3. Ensure that people can’t lie to themselves i.e. state the facts clearly and increase awareness of actual costs.
  4. Put some hard bottom-line on book prices and do not sell below it (and do not let ANYONE sell below it).
  5. Go with the UK thing i.e. piraters lose their Internet Connection. Frame it as good people + good companies Vs evil people.

Instead of a Story of

Evil, greedy companies trying to fleece customers.

Paint a more accurate story –

Companies paying their employees and their artists. Evil piraters increasing costs for everyone.

Customers getting quality content at reasonable prices.

This post is a great example of laying out costs. Every single author and every single Publisher needs to be doing this.

Most importantly –

  1. Do what Apple did and focus on people who want quality and will pay well for it.
  2. Differentiate content that costs a lot to make.
  3. Go after the kingpins of piracy and ‘free’.

What’s Content Creators’ Trump Card?

They’re still the only ones set-up to create high quality content.

You might be able to replace one of Stephen King and J. K. Rowling and John Grisham from a random system that doesn’t rewards authors.

However, you can’t replace all of them.

You might be able to get a few bloggers that are very honest and report at a very high level.

However, you can’t replicate the amount of quality content newspapers create.

Does that mean there is Hope?


Consider this article snippet from the Economist –

First, two of the biggest impacts in history happened within 300,000 years of each other—a geological eyeblink.

Second, they coincided with one of the largest periods of vulcanicity in the past billion years.

Third, one of them just happened to strike where these volcanoes were active.

Or, to put it another way, what really killed the dinosaurs was a string of the most atrocious bad luck.

Publishing and Authors might be on the brink of extinction.

However, there is still one more stroke of atrocious luck needed.

There are only two things that could provide the killer blow –

  1. Content Creators start devaluing their work. OR
  2. Another source of quality content emerges.

2. is not going to happen – What profitable company in their right mind would go into content creation?

Which leaves just one thing to prevent i.e. erosion of the value of quality content.

If something costs us $8 to make and we feel an additional $2 is reasonable reward, then we should sell only for $10. 

If we go down to $3 – then, no matter what the promises, we’ll never be able to go back to $10.

Your work is not meaningless or cheap or free.

One thought on “Content as Product Vs Content as a Hook”

  1. Thanks for the compliment (“great example of laying out costs”). I appreciate the feedback!

    For what it may be worth, other earlier posts may be useful to you, too. I’m thinking about the ones on copying the music industry model, and on estimating the future sales of a print book. Some of the techniques in the latter posts can be applied to ebooks. And I’d love to hear about other techniques in the comments section, if there are any others you use!

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