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How Much Free Content Should I Put in My Blog?

In this article Daniel Scocco answers to a question by Jana:

Where does a blogger draw the line between putting up free content versus releasing an eBook? I’m all about an informative blog with great articles…but an eBook seems to be a good revenue point. So, should an eBook have exclusive information in it that you don’t share on your blog? Or is the value of an eBook found in it being an edited and formatted compendium of your blog?

Considering that Jana talks about revenues, in this article we will cover only paid books that are created (mainly) with the purpose of generating money for the author. In other words, we will not cover the cases where someone writes a free eBook to promote his website, to build an email list, to offer a bonus to RSS subscribers and so on.

The first question that one needs to answer is the following: is my blog established as an authority in its niche, or am I established as an expert in this niche?

Notice that the two parts of this question do not walk together necessarily. One can have an authority blog or website without being a well known expert. Consider Sitepoint.com for example, they are one of the most respected resources for webmasters on the Internet, and yet the site is not associated with any particular person (but rather with a group of authors).

The opposite can happen as well. Muhammad Saleem is a social media guru, and yet his personal blog is not very well known. This is because his strategy involves mostly guest appearances on high profile blogs, as well as on the direct interaction with the communities of the various social bookmarking sites on the web.

Now going back to our initial question, if you answer is no, you probably should keep putting free and quality content out there.

Do not think about this free content as money left on the table, but rather as an investment.

Whenever you create free and high quality content, and publish it on your blog (or on other blogs and websites), you are both building your credibility and making prospects enter your sales funnel. That is, they are getting in contact with your material and ideas, and over the time they will become more inclined to take that relationship to another level (by purchasing your eBook, for instance).

If, on the other hand, you think that your blog or your person already have enough credibility to get an eBook on the market, then you have three main possibilities as far as the origin of the content is concerned.

1. Blog into book

The first possibility is to use completely the content that is already published on the blog. As Jana correctly pointed out in her question, there are many people out there willing to spend money into freely available information that comes edited and formatted.

This editing and formating, and the fact that the information will be contained in a single, easily searcheable document, will probably save people time. And time, is money (sorry for the cliché).

The advantage of this method is obvious: the content is already written, so the author will just need to gather, edit and format it. The downside is that you won’t be able to charge a lot (else people would just go to the trouble of finding the information themselves).

Leo Babauta had a good success with this strategy. He turned his most popular articles into an eBook titled “Handbook for Life,” and started selling it for $6.95.

2. Almost unique

The second possibility is to use some of the free content on your blog, and then to build on top of that to create a more complete and appealing eBook. This is the strategy that I used on my eBook.

It was a natural process, and it all started with a single post. The post was titled “The 7 Characteristics of Good Domain Names,” and it attracted a large amount of comments, links and traffic.

The buzz that it generated was a signal that people were interested on the topic. After a small research on the web I discovered that there was no eBook focusing completely on “how to find domain names,” therefore I decided to write it.

That initial post became the first chapter of the eBook. The rest was unique.

3. Completely unique

Finally, you can also write an eBook from scratch. It might even cover points that you wrote about in the past, but you would need to rewrite them under the framework of an actual book and not of a blog post.

The obvious downside of this strategy is that it will take much more time than the other two. The advantage is that all your current readers and prospects are potential buyers. Even the ones that have been reading your blog for a long time will have a reason to the eBook. It comes with fresh content, after all.

Conclusion

There are no rules defining how much content you should give for free, and how much content you should charge for. The first corner-stone is to establish your blog or yourself as an authority in its niche, and from there, depending on your availability of time, you should decide what kind of eBook you want to publish, if at all.

Another interesting question is the following: are ongoing training programs the new eBooks? But this is for another article!

Daniel Scocco is the author of Daily Blog Tips. You can stay updated with his blog tips by subscribing to his RSS Feed.

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Comments

  1. Noobpreneur says:

    Daniel,

    I wondered about this, also.

    I keep posting insider info that would even make a great case study for an entrepreneurship course, but I post them for free at my blog.

    I’m thinking about making an e-book like you mentioned in your #3.

    Great post!

    Cheers :)

  2. Crazykinux says:

    I guess it also depends on how you’d want to generate revenue: through your blog, an eBook or you expertise (or all 3).

    In some cases, you’ll want to release some material as free in order to drive business to you (your the expert). In other cases, the expertise is in the book, thus you’d sell the eBook.

    As an example, Micheal Martine of Remarkablogger has done the former using his free eBook on Business Blogging.

    CK

  3. Alli says:

    We’re thinking along the lines of an e-book; research takes up a lot of time, and the content is pretty valuable. We really love telling people about what we know, and we never want to stop, but we do need to think about using our knowledge and the information to create revenue. We won’t ever stop ‘giving away’ information but the more in-depth information would be great as an e-book.

    We’re still finding it quite hard to think in these terms; what do others think?

  4. Much of this decision should be based on how well you have set yourself up as an expert. If you aren’t an acknowledged “guru” keep putting out great info for free. Once you are established, you can often build your ebook and use blog posts and articles to get peoples interest in the topic. Again, the info must be good and free.

    Another thing to consider is how much you gain by giving away the information.

    It is human nature to feel the need to reciprocate. By giving away information, you build up a "bank account" that can be used at a later date.
    You build trust and a relationship. It doesn’t matter why people say they bought something. They bought it from you because they know and trust you. The logic just justifies the purchase decision.
    Even if the information is already available you save them time and money. This is multiplied when you take it outside your blog and into the world wide web. 90% of the info out there is junk. You can help them avoid this, and since they trust you and know you are an expert…

    Note: much of this comment is based on building trust. Never betray that trust even if you see the opportunity for a major profit.

  5. Del Sauzo says:

    Like you said , your blog has to be established enough before you think of going into this.

    I personally feel that if your blog is established and you’re recognized as an authority within your niche + proper monetization you wont be looking ( necessarily ) for the extra income from e-books.

    But on the other hand ( like a lot of successful blogs today ) if you set out trying to offer some value to your readers and can somehow sensibly show that putting it on your blog may not be the best option ie if you can show that an e-book would be the preferred choice even if the choice was left to your blog readers, then of course you’ll be able to go ahead.

    I think, as with every genuine venture on the internet, if you’re giving some value, a lot of people won’t mind parting with some cash.

    My advice : wait it out till you find something viable enough, worthwhile, of benefit to your readers and which would come out better in an ebook, and then go for it.

    Goodluck to Jana !

  6. Frugal Dad says:

    I’m currently giving away an eBook free to subscribers, but since it is mostly existing posts, repackaged and consolidated I don’t feel I’m missing out on a large revenue stream. When I was selling the eBook I barely made enough to cover e-junkie fees and it wasn’t worth it.

    I am looking to write a couple new eBooks with completely unique content and sell on the blog in a few weeks, but I need to spend some time building credibility in those areas.

  7. I have never heard of a successful eBook that actually makes “decent” money, apart from those that are already getting mass publicity and are published on high-traffic websites.

    To me, eBook-ing seems like a waste of time. Why put brand new information into an eBook that might not sell, if I can constantly provide an even greater amount of value for free via my blog? Doing the latter would drive up my traffic and allow me to reach an even greater amount of people much more effectively than an eBook. Besides, most blogs wouldn’t benefit from paying content anyway; they’d be much better off offering all content for free and connecting with their audience vs. creating a partial store for their blog where they can sell rehashed articles and blog posts from the past.

  8. Barbara Ling says:

    I’ve found that implementing all of the techniques above can work regarding generating multiple streams of income – ie:

    * the ebook that has tons of affiliate resources in it

    * the ‘how to’ manual that saves time and money

    * the shortcuts that hardly anyone else knows because they take time to implement

    etc.etc.etc. One should always be open to turning on a dime and trying different ideas out.

    Data points, Barbara

  9. I think the thought of writing a book scares people, but it’s just like writing a long long long blog post.

  10. Shanel Yang says:

    I’ve always wanted to write books, but the idea of writing a 200-page-plus book just overwhelmed me, so I went the safe route and became a lawyer instead. But, when I decided to quit law and start blogging, I realized I could at least start with a much smaller eBook, which I did. It was surprisingly easy and fun to write because I could stop worrying about agents, publishers, and all those daunting issues. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to write a book “someday.” It’s great practice, and you just don’t know what it feels like until you do it. Mine is only 74 pages but I think it provides value to the interested reader. It felt amazing to finish it! So, I recommend going for it now if you have a topic you’re passionate about. You can withhold it, if you want, till you get enough viewers or credibility to offer it for sale.

  11. I have been 4 days in my engineering life and till date did not buy any e-book. May be ignorance but I like to buy paper books or read online for free. I believe now there is so much information either pirated or not is available online that you will always find a way to get around .

    I believe it is more worth to have an exclusive site for any content which original and worth enough.

  12. Ann says:

    Thank you for a post about blogging that I understood completely! I’m still so new at all of this that I sometimes don’t understand the language in the “tips and tricks” articles.

    Personally, I have purchased a handful of ebooks and downloaded as many free resources.

    Some of this stuff is just old marketing and list-building techniques brought to the web – free gifts have been around forever as a way to drive “traffic” – like toasters from the bank and steak knives from the gas station!

  13. I’d have to say that you should be giving away at least 70 – 80% of the goods. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

    I think that if you’re providing crazy value (like a Problogger), when it comes time to release a book or ebook, or coaching course, people will know that if you’re charging for something, then it must be good.

    Your job is to make sure that it obviously overdelivers.

    That’s my theory. Give almost everything away free…

  14. Gregg says:

    Let’s say you want to publish an ebook but want to blog while you’re in the creation stage of the ebook. You can certainly publish news about the subject in a blog but have more concrete reference material in the ebook.

    I’m considering going the route of blogging before the ebook comes out to build readership and credibility. The question that’s been going through my mind is whether to have the blog and the ebook sales letter/page (when it comes out) together in the same domain or separate them into different domains.

    It would be a bit odd to have a domain of let’s say http://www.ebook.com when only blog.ebook.com or ebook.com/blog are functional.

    Has anyone had any experience with this?

  15. Reginald says:

    I am of the opinion that free content is an excellent source for developing traffic on a blog.

    New blogs only have their content to rely on so that they can be distinguished from all the other blogs that are in the same niche as yours.

    The bottom line is that I believe free is one of the biggest pulls for online surfers or consumers in general.

  16. I think whatever works for the individual is right for their blog. If the content you are posting is effectively driving traffic and revenues your way and you are fine telling all your secrets then ‘let the clutch out’. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with profiteering from your good ideals and appealing information.

    I am currently looking to drive traffic to my site with free reviews of other top notch and unique websites. At some point, way off near the sunset, I do plan on offering more home grown content and not so many site reviews.

    Great post

  17. Alli says:

    @B.Smith@Wealth and Wisdom – the issue with trust is a good point; we certainly don’t want to betray our readers.

  18. @Crazykinux, yeah that is for sure, but for this post I needed to limit the scope of the discussion only to books that will be sold for money, else we would a lot more to talk!

    @B Smith, I agree 100% with the trust factor. But it would also be very difficult to lose trust by publishing an eBook. Unless you try to scam people obviously.

    @Alejandro, love this quote:

    “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. “

  19. Matt @ Kurb says:

    Nice post.

    I recently had a Eureka moment where I finally connected what I’m doing to the “Teaching Sells” concept, which I sort of understood, but mainly followed because of the buzz.

    Now people like us who follow blogs have heard the same types of information 100 ways thats why I’m tuned into your first point about presenting information in an accessible, digestable and actionable way, especially for those who dont read blogs all day as a work related activity.

    I don’t think my blog or my business represents that I’m some kind of high authority, but now I’m moving away from consultancy and more towards information products and communities that can scale, I’m really excited.

  20. The Guide says:

    Great post!

    Since I’m lazy I’d probably use the first method.

    If you aren’t lazy you could use the first method for free to attract people to your blog, and the third method for making money.

    Make Money With Photoshop
    http://make-money-ps.blogspot.com/

  21. Michael says:

    Just give it all away for free, it can do nothing more then help the blogosphere as a whole.

  22. jana says:

    wow…a great answer to my question with excellent points from everyone. Thanks so much! So many good things covered…now I gotta ponder them, haha. Bravo!

  23. Ruben says:

    Thanks for the advice. I was also thinking of writing an ebook. But your advice let me realize that I first have to do something about becoming an autority. Launching a brand new website with a paid ebook sounds after this article a bad idea I had.

  24. As an expert in my niche, (financial markets), I have blogging my way to a book. But, like Daryl’s experience, the first book I am writing is more than a compilation of blog posts. The second book I write may be just a compilation of blog posts.

    But, the bottom line for me is that I am not widely recognized as an expert. Hence, the reason for writing the first book detailing the financial turmoil of 2008 as it relates to our lives today and within the context of 150 years of American financial history.

    The first book I write will be more of a story then, and the second book will strictly be educational, once I have established myself as an authority in my niche. So, I am going to write the story first, then lever that authority to boost sales of the second book!~

  25. Metro says:

    My blog provides a lot of free info. I have to work hard to develop it. So far it has been very well received, traffic is solid. I started a Video Channel with tutorial videos for sale. The idea was provide quality content then steer reader to video to purchase.

    I figured this is it, I’m going to be selling 50 videos a day. I mixed in some free ones to make visitors comfortable.

    Guess what? My paid videos are excellent tutorials but no one is buying. My free videos are being watched constantly and traffic is jumping.

    Point is, people come for the free info. Once there you have to try different things to see what sells. What if you give your ebook away for free and keep providing quality info. Likely result is quality traffic. Maybe revenue comes through back door.

    Every day I think about the women who made some kind of thing for keeping her hair up. She made $75 million. She then ventured into other gadgets she figured would be winners and lost $20 million. Something like that.

    I’d say keep giving away free quality info and keep your eye on the back door.

  26. Temi says:

    Great post! Really a blog should be established big enough before thinking of doing this, then i like your first question “is my blog established as an authority in its niche, or am I established as an expert in this niche?” Thats a great questtion to be asked.
    I believe free content is an investment, its promote your business and you make easy bucks from there.

  27. Sue says:

    I have considered building an ebook but I am unsure if it would be a benefit in building traffic. I would like to keep my blog free however I have considered writing a tutorial with screen shots. Perhaps if I follow through with this concept, posting the first chapter on the blog as the introduction teaser would be appropriate. Suggestions? Awesome post!

  28. My guess is that the presence of an e-book is perceived as evidence of ‘authority’. Even if the first one doesn’t sell especially well, it paves the way for later sales.

  29. @ Reuben — rethink that. Create your e-book. Take your time & craft it well. Create a second one if you have sufficient material. Do the same with a couple dozen (or more) posts. Make certain that every word is solid. Make sure of your facts. Make the words evocative of emotions. Let every third or fourth post reference one of the e-books in passing. No ‘hard sell’ … just identify a topic that you think your potential customers would pay to obtain in-depth knowledge about … and then casually mention that you go into more depth about it in your e-book.

    Then, when you have this minimum level of content ready, turn your attention to the mechanics of the blog: the theme, the privacy policy and contact pages, the choice of hosts (I have a link to an excellent one on my blog – just follow the name link), and the marketing. Get the mechanics settled (you can, and will, revise later) and then tear into the marketing with the same determination as you doggedly wrote the content.

    I didn’t do this. It shows.

  30. Frank says:

    Nice post and many thanks for taking the time to share your ideas.
    My blog focuses on hiking (bushwalking) in Australia, and in particular Tasmania…a beautiful and unspoilt part of the world.

    I would love to consolidate all my posts into an eBook and make it available to my readers. (as I get a lot of lookers who don’t return :-( )
    Just need to take a week off work and focus on creating it. Time management rather than motivation seems to be my limiting factor.

  31. Writing an e-book as a compilation of your posts is a great idea. Every post has by itself its own beauty and importance, some better than others, but once you look at the whole picture you get the original beauty, the big idea. It’s like posting the picture of an eye or a hand or a foot; if they look good by separate, remember me, they are going to shine together.
    http://www.Theimmigrantlounge.blogspot.com

  32. gout says:

    I am still learning, and your posting really help me to understand more….thanks

  33. Good questions as to when to charge. I have found that if you offer an ebook that will solve your niche’s problem that they will give you a little cred because you are attempting to help them with valuable information without asking for something in return. Well, they will think that and most will continue to come back often. Thanks

  34. Hi Daniel,
    Thx for the tips. I like the first option the most because its easiest for novice bloggers like me and also less risky than completely making the book unique. Only pro writers like you can do that.

    Great post.

    I just visited your site dailyblogtips. The site seems rally interesting and I am subscribing to it too.