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8 Reasons People Pay for Content When They Can Get It for Free

Why people pay for content

In the past year, several of my friends and I have paid for subscriptions to The New York Times. It’s definitely not the only place we could get our news — and at roughly $27 per month, it’s far from the cheapest.

But we’re not the only ones willing to pay for great content. The NYT’s subscription revenue has grown year after year – 157,000 people signed up for digital subscriptions in the third quarter of 2017 alone.

According to a 2015 survey from Nieman Lab, 93% of 18 to 34-year-olds regularly pay for content (such as entertainment, educational/informative content, and news).

The most interesting takeaway from the survey (for creators, at least): Those paying for their content are more likely to engage with the same type of content available for free on Facebook or other platforms.

This begs the question:

Why are people, including you and me, paying for content when they can get similar content without paying a dime?

It turns out there are multiple powerful reasons. So if you’re currently debating whether to start selling your content online, read on (or watch on, if that’s your thing).

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1. Efficiency

Paying for content usually makes that content a lot more accessible. Take workout videos; while you might be able to find plenty of free videos online, it could take a long time to find one with the length, format, instructor, fitness level, and workout style you prefer. However, if you’re paying for, say, a series of virtual Barre classes, it takes mere seconds to pick the right one and start.

Ultimately, paid courses save their audience a ton of time. They get the right content at the right time, whether they’re searching a curated database or working their way through a series of courses. And since time is money, customers are making their investment back.

2. Everything in One Place

Along similar lines, paying for content means everything is in one place. Every video you need is on one website — rather than scattered around several different sites.

Plus, many creators give their students additional materials, like downloadable exercises, worksheets, and case studies/examples. Since these “live” in the same place as the video content, there’s no danger of losing track of them.

3. Credibility

Anyone with access to the internet and a few simple tools can upload a YouTube video or publish a blog post. The barrier to entry is almost nonexistent.

While the fact anyone can create content definitely has benefits, it also means your audience can’t automatically trust anything they watch or read. Making sure they’re getting accurate, up-to-date, objective information requires them to research the person who created it and their credentials and motivations. That’s time-consuming (and probably not how they want to spend your weekends).

But if they’re paying for content, they only need to trust the original source. Vetting the creator is usually a relatively quick and painless process: Look at their site, browse their testimonials, scroll through their reviews, and read their About page. If everything checks out, the customer can listen to their advice or feedback knowing they won’t be steered wrong.

4. Personality

Every creator has a different style and personality. Maybe you love learning from high-energy, cheerful instructors. Maybe you’re more a fan of the serious, focused approach. Maybe you prefer detailed directions over vague ones.

Whatever the case, it can take a while to find a person or platform whose style suits yours. When people do, they’re motivated to get as much as they can from that source. Followers might be able to consume the creator’s content for free, but more likely than not, if he or she is successful, he or she will be charging for at least some of what they make.

5. Specific outcome

People often sign up for an online course or training because they’re looking for a specific outcome — like learning how to dance flamenco, practice yoga, or design jaw-dropping tattoo art.

The only problem? They don’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. If someone wants to learn a specific skill or technique, such as “do a falseta” or “draw a realistic tree,” they can easily search for and find a relevant free online.

However, if they’re looking for a comprehensive guide, a paid course is much more helpful. It breaks down the journey into a straightforward, easy-to-follow progression. Each video typically builds on the next, helping the audience slowly but steadily gain mastery.

Essentially, paid videos take away the need for learners to design their own curriculum.

6. Guaranteed results

Many paid courses come with guarantees as well: If the customer doesn’t learn X skill or achieve Y goal (or simply isn’t satisfied), the creator will give them a partial or full refund.

That insurance can make hesitant customers feel confident about making the leap. It’s the kind of insurance they can never get with a free course. And if the creator is willing to give them back their money, it also proves they believe in the content’s value.

7. Value

That brings us to the seventh main reason people pay for content: Value. To understand this point, think of the last freebie you got. You were probably excited — people have an irrational response to free things — but how much did you value what you got?

Chances are, a lot less than something you paid for. Ramit Sethi, bestselling author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, describes what happened when his courses first started taking off.

“My friends would say to me, ‘Ramit, can you give me a course for free?’ And I always said yes.”

He continues, “I would always track to see whether they logged on. Can you guess if they did or not?

The answer is: Of course not. People value what they pay for.”

Sethi says this happened “over and over again” with his $2,000 course. So he started charging. Lo and behold, the people who actually bought it almost always finished the course.

One more point to consider: According to Sethi’s data, “people who actually bought a product are five times more likely to open (our free emails) than those who’ve never bought.”

Consumers are more likely to see your product as valuable if there’s a price tag on it. (This is especially effective if they’re using it to improve their health or career; think exercise videos or a “how to” course.)

8. Desire to support a community

Many people will also pay for content as a way to support their favorite artists or contribute to a community or movement. For example, RIV publishes daily exclusive content from independent artists.

Digital publication Slate asks its readers to become “Slate Plus” members. For $35 a year, they get advance access to content, fewer ads, and discount tickets to Slate events. But the main draw? “Supporting independent journalism,” according to the website.

You can see this effect playing out with “mom and pop” businesses as well. More than 9 in 10 people think shopping at small businesses is important; they’ll not only pay higher prices, they’ll go out of their way as well.

If your audience appreciates your philosophy, approach, mission, or simply personality, paying for your content will feel gratifying.

It might seem illogical people would ever pay for content when they could get a never-ending supply for free. But for these seven powerful reasons, your audience will gladly click “Buy.” Don’t let a fear of charging for your work deter you from selling it.

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