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Making a Million Bucks vs. Reaching a Million People

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“Thank you my friend I have never met. […] I found your blog post “fuck the internet” on a day I was in a bad way.

[…] You know what the best part is? You didn’t even charge me a dime. Thank you so much. I could never have heard what you had to say if you were charging admission. I would be glad to pay you now but I’m currently broke. :) I’m going be doing real good real soon and I will help you out if you need it then.

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I get a lot of emails from people, it’s true. But this one really hit home.

Some people I know charge $300 an hour for their time doing basically what I do on this site for free. I met a guy last week who charges $15,000 a year or something for mentoring a few people. I hear they’re very good at it too.

I actually could do these things. I know that I could because I kind of do already with some people that I know– I just do it for free– but I know that people would pay. Sometimes I’ll get an email going “are you coaching so-and-so? I can hear your voice coming out of his mouth,” and I’ll reply, “we talk every little while, yeah,” or “he reads my blog I think.” Not that I’m saying that I influence everyone with a voice like mine, not at all.

Anyway, I had a conversation with someone last week where they kind of hinted that I have “issues around money” or whatever (I’m paraphrasing) because I would rather get a great book out for free to 100,000 people than make a dollar or two per copy and sell 10% of that number. It’s the truth though, and I’m not sure it’s because I’m awkward about it, I just really believe that amazing stuff should be available for free. This is the internet, I figure you can charge if you want as long as you’re ok with competing with free.

I’m not making a secret out of the fact that I’m doing fine financially, and I understand that not everyone can experiment with this. That’s fine. But even if I had sold millions of books I would still probably give much of them away or find a way to give them away for free. I just think it’s the right thing to do.

Free worked for Paulo Coelho. He seeded torrents of his own work and it increased sales.

Free worked for Vice magazine– nobody would have paid for that– and now it’s ubiquitous.

Free worked for Angry Birds. Now people play it for more than 1 million hours per day.

But it’s not just about free. It’s more than that. Soon, it’s going to be GREAT + FREE.

And how in God’s name do you compete against that?

* Filed by Julien at 1:54 pm under random, strategy


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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28 Responses to “Making a Million Bucks vs. Reaching a Million People”

  1. Tyler Says:

    People first. Then ask them for a dollar. Profit!

  2. Hope Says:

    The big self-helpers on success all agree with you: give away your time, talent, or ideas, and you’ll get it back in spades.

  3. yliharma Says:

    I’ve finished reading The Flinch yesterday and I think it’s great!
    Thank you for giving it for free and sharing with the world! :)

  4. Baptiste Laurenge Says:

    Well, there is also that start-up that became the internet king of the hill by giving incredibly awesome services for Free.

    I think it’s called Google ^^.

  5. Corinna Says:

    Thank you for writing for free. I was thinking about you and your writings on Saturday when by accident I sort of forced myself to step up instead of flinching away.
    When my hula teacher asked us to join her in a beginners workshop I agreed thinking that there will be many of our group so I could just hide in the back row as I usualy do. In the end there were two of us plus our teacher and I ended up in the front row with a dance I did not know showing the beginners what to do.
    Miraculously I neither ran away to hide nor got an heart attack but did my job as good as I could (and surprised myself with my performance – seems like I did learn something during that year). Afterwards I was wondering why I was always so afraid to dance in the front row. It was not that bad after all. So yes, you are right I should trust myself and be more curageous. It seems like all kinds of wonderful things are going to happen when you take your place in the front row.

  6. Usman Says:

    I think its awesome with your idea to spread your message for free, but I am curious how you make your money to be able to do this permanently?

  7. Maria Says:

    Sure free has A LOT of power, and it’s really hard to beat!

  8. Corey Koehler Says:

    Perfect timing on this post. I have e new tune I am releasing this Wednesday (which BTW was in part inspired by your writing) and I have been batting around the free or not free (with a value add) for about a week. I think this seals it.

  9. Julian Summerhayes Says:

    Knowledge is ubiquitous; information is practically worthless; and there are very few experts (Gurus I hate, hate, hate!!).

    The only way to make a difference is to change lives, make a dent in your world or create something that moves me/us/them to tears.

    Julian

  10. Brian Clark Says:

    Free is great if you establish an ongoing relationship with those people. That’s why blogs and email lists build companies, movements, etc.

    Giving a book away on Amazon continues a relationship between those people and Amazon, but not necessarily with you.

    Not being critical, just some thoughts. I’ve built a pretty decent business on the back of free content. I just think perhaps a free book as good as The Flinch deserved at least an email opt-in in exchange rather than sending them to Amazon. Some guy did well with that back in 1999.

  11. Brian Clark Says:

    Whoops … that guy being Seth Godin, the guy you partnered with to give away your book.

  12. Kimberly Says:

    Agreed. And loved The Flinch. Thank you! Would love a follow-up to this post on how, then, to make money with valuable content/books/art/products/etc. e.g. at what point do you charge, whom do you charge and for what?

  13. HollyEm Says:

    It’s definitely the way forward. This was the most enjoyable post I’ve read all week. Thanks!

  14. Derek Says:

    You know where I stand on this. I’m going to have to agree with Brian in public, and I hate doing that ;-).

    Giving away a book as good as Flinch in exchange for an email opt-in would have helped you build lasting relationships with people who will continue to read your work, mainly because you’d have a way to contact them.

    However, if you really wanted to release it on Amazon, you could have included a page in your free book that leads them back to your site and invites them to opt in here for some other added benefit.

  15. Chel Says:

    Sometimes free + emails like that is all you need.

  16. Conni Says:

    If I could afford to, I’d do what you did. Until then, I will have to write and create to make a living. Once my TMI is reached (and it isn’t very high), I think it’s an awesome idea to give your best and most amazing stuff away for free. No emails in exchange. Just giving it away and reach as many people as possible.

    Why does it always have to be an exchange? Why always email addresses and relationships or money? Why can’t we learn from so many things that are wrong in this world of ours?

    Thanks Julien. You’re awesome.

  17. Caleigh Says:

    That’s the great thing about blogs. Sharing thoughts and ideas and influences has certainly changed the world, but is it actually free? Financially, yes. But what other price has been put on instead?

  18. Brett Henley Says:

    On fire.

    You don’t compete. You don’t worry about chasing that ever-shifting line.

    Let everyone else be the dog to mailman.

    People put energy into the wrong things, often.

    I’d rather give and keep giving – creating something that will sustain vs. fizzle out when the world moves on to new, bigger, faster, etc.

    I don’t think free is about competition … it’s about what matters.

    The rest will work itself out (those who charge will fullfil their role in the market).

    • Brett Henley Says:

      And let me be clear, I’m not advocating “never” charging … rather, I’d earn the right to ask for your money first by giving you something that you need.

      Nothing new, but I think we tend to overcomplicate the freemium approach a bit.

  19. Naked Girl in a Dress Says:

    I get long emails from people who tell me they read my blog from the beginning to most recent, like a book. They are writing to express gratitude for what I have done to help them. And really, I have not done anything other than publicly be introspective on happiness, life, love, relationships, divorce, etc.

    I often think of breaking down the blog into sections and publishing as inspirational books on each topic. With the content already free on my blog, I had the same thought; give the book away for free. I would reach a greater audience, which would be wonderful.

    Thanks for this post and the previous one. Both helped me with my own thoughts about how to enter publishing arena.

  20. Ben Winters Says:

    I say reach that 1 million people.. not only will it allow people to see your work,but it will make you known..if your good. That will allow you to make 1 million later!

    Ben Winters CEO
    http://www.TeachMeAwesome.com
    Teaching you awesome.. 1 day at a time

  21. Rick Wolff Says:

    This is the most perplexing and reality-warping issue. Giving away things for free.
    I’ve been doing it for a while. Mostly because I like it, and I suppose it gets my name around. The other day I put in a bid for $0. I got rejected. They found someone else. All the advice I got from friends went about the same way: “Nobody respects you when you don’t charge enough. If you value your work, they will too.”
    Then you come along, with this.
    So which is it?

  22. Daniel Decker Says:

    The problem with free is the same as with paid and you mentioned it in the post when you said “amazing stuff.” Amazing Stuff is subjective though, as we know. Too many authors or “idea havers” think that simply offering it for free means the idea will spread but only the good ideas spread. Free just helps it happen faster.

    If my burrito joint has good burritos and I give one away to 1000 people, they likely become customers and tell __ people about the “Amazing” free burrito (1000 x ___ = Exponential Exposure). If I just start by selling my burrito, 100 people might buy and tell ___ friends. Same cycle (if the burrito is good) but just difference scale.

    I think free vs paid is simply a matter of choice aligned with goals. No right or wrong. Both and.

  23. mel Says:

    i love this. it’s simple and utterly freakin’ terrifying to most people…

    so terrifying that they feel compelled to argue and over-complicate the benefit of ‘free’.

    wtf?

    :D

  24. Momekh Says:

    Thank you for confusing the heck outta me. No really. Thanks. :/

    :)

  25. Judi Distaffen Says:

    A cardinal principle of Total Quality escapes too many managers: you are unable to continuously improve interdependent systems and operations until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.
    It will require greater than capital to swing business. You have got to have the A. I. D. degree to get by – Advertising, Initiative, and Dynamics.

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