Why Buy The Cow When The Milk Is Free?

I ran across an ad for this computer magazine.

Do you subscribe to this magazine? If so, tell me about it.

If you don’t, or never have heard of it, take a look at what it has to offer. Then look here and see how much it costs.

A good deal more than Computer Shopper or PC Magazine. A bit more than PC World.

Would you pay it? Would you pay it under any circumstances?

Or do you think the price you’re paying for these folks’ commentary now is about all it’s worth to you?

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

I am not out to make an example out of something or someone, but rather to learn from a pioneering example. I suspect the same would have happened to anyone else doing the same thing.

Late last year, the Anandtech Guide To PC Gaming Hardware was published. Every once in a while, I go over to Amazon to see how it’s selling.

I’ve never seen it do better than about 30,000th place, it’s been as low as 140,000th place, and right now, it’s in about 80,000th place.

These are not good sales figures, even for computer books. Computer hardware books have recently broken into the top hundred, and a well-regarded book like Upgrading and Repairing PCs by Scott Mueller consistently has a sales ranking around 2,000th place.

Mr. Mueller doesn’t have a website; Mr. Shimpi does. You would think that would give the latter an advantage. Indeed, that probably was a major factor for the book to be published to begin with.

Yet if you look for references on the Internet about these two books, it’s the absolute opposite. Search with Yahoo, and you’ll find plenty of book reviews and other references to Mr. Mueller’s book. If you go to Google and search newsgroups, you’ll find plenty of references there, too.

Do the same thing with Mr. Shimpi’s book, and the silence is deafening.

Search for references in Yahoo for the other book, and you just find links to bookstores. Only one review of the book I know about, ours. Go to Google and search under the title of the book and what do you find? Zero, zilch, nada. Mind you, you can find tons of references to the website on Google; plenty of people in the newsgroups know about it.

Just none for the book. You can’t even find anybody asking, “Is this book any good?”

There seemed to be almost a conspiracy of silence about this book. It wasn’t like some people got it and panned it; it never even came up for discussion at all outside the Anandtech website (and hardly even there).

The point of all this is not to rake the author over the coals, quite the opposite. The point is not that this book didn’t show up much in Internet channels, it’s that this book didn’t show up on the radar screen at all.

I suspect there’s a bigger issue here.

Free Content Devalues All Content?

If the underlying reason for this complete lack of interest is “Why should I pay for something from someone I get for free?” that argument applies just as well to anybody and everybody else on the Internet trying to step away from the free content.

A New Mark of Cain?

Much of the Internet today is predicated on the notion, “Give them some free content, and whet people’s appetites for the stuff that pays.”

I have the suspicion that at least in the minds of many, the exact opposite is occurring most of the time. The value of content is not being enhanced, but devalued.

For instance, if you get plenty of free Anand Lal Shimpi, this doesn’t make you more inclined to pay for more Anand Lal Shimpi, but rather more inclined not to ever pay for Anand Lal Shimpi (or Ed Stroligo, or any other name you’d care to stick in).

This is a much different response than you normally get in the literary world. Authors very often compile their periodical work in book form, and some of those sell very well.

Perhaps that’s simply because it’s a lot easier to find an archived article at a website than a back issue of a magazine.

However, I suspect more than this. I suspect that in the case of authors that emerge from the Internet, anything they later try to do for pay will be ignored by the audience that are used to getting the author’s work for free and just won’t pay for it.

It’s just a hypothesis. I could well be wrong. If, for instance, Computer Power User sells like hotcakes, that would be pretty good proof I’m wrong.

But what do you think? Can you see yourself paying for the work of authors who normally write for websites? Or do you find that silly?


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