Free Lunch, Anyone?

By • Mar 4th, 2010 • Category: 26th Story, Business

On the first day of 9th grade, my son came home to tell me about his Global class. The teacher had held up a dollar bill and asked the kids what it was. One said “money,” another said “a dollar,” etc. The teacher went on to explain that it was in fact just a piece of paper, and that the faith people put in that paper is what gives it value. That story blew my son away (and me too, in fact).

Cut to this week when I have been asked for more FREE things than I ever remember. In one week, I received the following requests:

  • Dozens of people (media, bloggers, and everyday ordinary folk) have asked for FREE tickets to a conference we’re hosting (And by the way, this conference business is supposed to be a revenue source because everyone wants their books for FREE these days. Turns out they want conferences for free too.).
  • A TV Show wants 140 FREE books for the audience members. This seems to be a standard request these days. I’ve never quite understood how the author and publisher benefit from this, but it is practically expected.
  • A blogger asked me for 100 copies of an author’s book for FREE to give away to his readers. He was writing a review. After much deliberation and hesitation, I agreed to 50 copies, which still seemed extreme to me.

At first I was appalled, and then I realized that maybe this is The Economics of Integrity…and maybe I should be going back to these requesters and making my own counter-requests…and maybe this is how the new economy works.

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  • http://gregcryns.blogspot.com/ greg cryn

    Debbie, your headline caught me on Twitter. “This blog is free.” Love it!

    Thought provoking post as well. I'm not sure where I stand on the new gimme, gimme before I give. It rubs against my capitalist training. Maybe I should change my tune? Maybe.

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    Me either…..but I don't feel that I have a choice but to try!

  • http://www.eoinpurcellsblog.com Eoin Purcell

    Seems reasonable that you could say yes but only if you ….

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    Exactly :)

  • http://www.creativeaces.com/ Joann Sondy

    I know what you mean about the deluge (and audacity) of people 'expecting' to get something for FREE! While not on the same level with your examples, I'm dealing with clients who actually think my design business functions as a non-profit just to serve their needs. Is it the economy? A gift is one thing but the expectations that we continue to give services/products/tickets away at no charge is absurd.

  • http://insatiablereaders.blogspot.com/ Gina

    Wow, really? They asked for 100 copies to giveaway from a blog post? I may be a little green still in that arena (still under the 1 year blogging mark) but that seems a bit extreme for 1 site. I'm all for “spreading the love” but really, as popular as they might be, there are others that are in other circles as well….it's not just about giving away the book, it's about spreading the news about the book and author. Or at least, that's my two cents….

    (I agree with the other comment as well…the Twitter title was catchy…had to see it!)

    Happy reading!

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    Maybe the economy….and/or maybe economics is evolving. When I was in the midst of writing this, a friend of a friend called and needs to coach people for her coaching degree, and she wanted to know if I was interested — and I don't want to spend the money on it (given that I have credit card bills I should probably pay off first!) — but I also didn't want to de-value her worth and make her think I was trying to get it for free.

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    Yup, 100 copies. And other publishers had done it. Seems extreme to me too. I agree with you that it should be about spreading the word about a book you love (and not about driving traffic to said blogger's site).

  • http://twitter.com/joebfoster Joe Foster

    This seems to be someone much more concerned with their hit numbers than for the work they're touting, more concerned with keeping readers loyal with the lure of freebies than in contributing to the success of an author. They're potentially harming the very work from which their own work has sprung; the work of the critic outweighing the work of the artist. One could easily argue that such a giveaway helps to raise awareness of the book, and those who don't win a copy will go and buy one somewhere, but I would be surprised if this were true. Seems like the same thing could be done with a single book give-away, frankly.
    I wouldn't be surprised if most of these copies eventually went on sale online rather than actually being given away. That's the pessimist in me talking.

    I could be wrong, and this could be the next best big thing in advertising, too. Either way, my trust in such a critic's taste would be grossly eroded. To review if only something is given in return is kind of gross.

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    I'm with you Joe!

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  • http://personalbrandingblog.com/ Dan Schawbel

    Debbie, very good post and something that hasn't been talked about enough. The expectations people have now are much greater than years ago. Just because someone tweets you, they immediately think you should review their book or do them a favor. Expectations have changed, just as consumer behavior has.

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    So I'm not just imagining it? People are expecting more, for less?

  • http://www.debbieweil.com Debbie Weil

    Dan,

    That is a profound comment: “Expectations have changed.” So true. And we are all grappling with what it means. But still, common sense reigns. The best exposition of the so-called “free economy” I've read is Chris Anderson's book FREE. If you read it, you'll see that he's not really advocating FREE as a new business model…

  • thinkmaya

    Great post here Debbie!
    I think the people who don't now better are the ones who expect more, for less. The ones who understand how this works will be smart enough to either ask you what value they can provide in exchange or openly talk about their ask. I think there are really 2 aspects to the story -
    1. the good part is that a LOT of value is being created in the world by transactions that have no $ involved. As in, I help you and you help me and we are both better off.
    2. The bad part is that it really only works when BOTH people in the exchange are better of as a result. If one of them is worse off, then this whole value exchange falls flat.

    Pay it forward makes sense in a macro sense, but in business – such as a conference, a 100 copies of a book etc, if it does not make business sense, it shd be a NO. Or, I think, it is completely okay for you to make your ask. Speaking for myself, it is SO much easier when people tell me what they value – so in a way, you are educating people too :)

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    You totally nailed it. Thanks for putting it so clearly. That's IT!

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  • http://www.nursingprogramsonline.com/ greg cryns

    Last night my son told me that some of his friends are asking for freebies. He is a struggling sound engineer in LA. His friends have bands that want to be recorded.

    He told them NO. I agreed that his action was correct. What could they offer him in return? Not much at all. Will that spoil the friendship? If it does, he's better off without them, IMO.

  • http://twitter.com/theconcierge Serge Lescouarnec

    Debbie
    When I notice books that I might be interested in writing about on 'Serge the Concierge', I sometimes get in touch with the publisher?
    I might ask for a review copy or offer to run a contest promoting the book or ask for help in arranging an interview with the author.
    I think that for any blogger however successful he or she is to ask for 100 copies of a title is excessive, a few copies at most would be more appropriate.
    The same goes for that TV Show requesting 140 copies.
    I want to build a lasting relationship with publishers I collaborate with.
    When any request is made, the other party has always the option to say No.
    Serge
    'The French Guy from New Jersey'
    http://www.sergetheconcierge.com

  • http://www.natiiv.com/ Leah Jones

    I absolutely see this on the rise. When I helped a friend, Amy Guth, do a book tour in 05 or 06, bloggers were happy to be a part and understood that as an indie published writer she didn't have books to give away for review. Now it is expected – 2 books per blogger (one to review, one to give away) or more.

    In the grand scheme, I think people value what they pay for, so I try hard not to give work or time away. Try.

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    That sounds totally fair to me.

  • http://www.catchn.net/ Kate Sullivan

    I think part of this is too many people hearing about The Long Tail and the philosophy/doctrine of free, but not actually THINKING about it. “Free” does not mean free. It means monetizing through other means – like conferences or speaking engagements. It also doesn't mean something for nothing – there has to be an exchange going on. A review on a blog is great, but is it worth 50 books? Maybe (MAYBE) for HarperStudio, but certainly not for a small indie publisher with less ability to amortize the cost over a large print run…and yet this sort of quid *non* quo is what's starting to be expected. Not good.

    And audience giveaways? I think that's supposed to be “raising awareness of your product.” When I was running a tea company, I had people practically demand free stuff from me, on the grounds that “I'll tell other people/give you a review/raise product awareness for you.” Yes, and will that translate to sales for me? Not that I ever saw…sometimes it's worth it (for a blog with a huge audience), sometimes it's not. You have to weigh what you're getting in return.

    Catchn.net provides free content – but we do it with an eye towards creating a community. Not towards finding alternate revenue. Sending out hundreds of free books or tickets? That's just not good business.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    I remember Gary Vaynerchuk talking about customer expectations at this conference in France, and it seems like he's right on the mark. Only in this case, it isn't just customers who have higher expectations, it's the expectations of bloggers and other media partners. At what point will all of the freebies just cause everything to crash? It almost seems inevitable.

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  • prosperitygal

    I hear your concerns and think 100 books is a bit extreme as well.

    Here is where I disagree with many of the comments.

    As an online radio host who requests a review copy and a copy to give away here is the flip side of the coin.

    I spend an average 15 hours a week promoting via tweets, writing a detailed blog post, reading the book, creating a powerful interview (yes, I am one of few who read the whole book thank you very much), leaving reviews on amazon, making a video of guest and what I got from their message, writing email to list to tell them why they want to come listen to interview, post on facebook, linkedin, ning sites, create events pages and then we actually get to the interview.

    I do all this for FREE, well a review copy. So if we took my time I get as a consultant and multiplied that to these hours I spend promoting the book I could have earned $3,975.00. And that does not include the continuous support after wards in tweets, thank yous and encouraging listeners to participate in live twitter chats while doing interview. Heck I give authors what my clients pay me to do for them.

    The author received my time and exposure to my audience which last week almost topped 1,000 listeners in that hour alone. Not counting the support of my followers, friends and connections ;) which has topped 500,000 just in Twitter on Mondays.

    I love that you want to bring a fair balance to expectations in business today. I wanted to give you the other side of the coin to ponder as well.

    Yes, I love what I do and yes it will eventually help my business, It has grown my visibility and it is still a LOT of work for FREE without much return in physical dollars.

    And Joe it is not worth my time to try to sell my guests books online, please. (Which is why I have the publisher send directly to winner) That would be another time sink to write ads, monitor sale, ship it, giggle. I think you get my point. It is a two way street and yes we are in an evolving economy.

    I too get people who think Social Media and Internet Marketing is FREE and want to “Pick my brain over lunch” instead of realize that I get paid for my advice, thoughts and creativity. Those things like pay my rent and buy food kinda money.

    Great questions and sounds like we have the possibility of a great interview, you interested?

  • http://www.debbiestier.com Debbie Stier

    Hi. I have NO problem given a radio host a book. But I had been asked for 100 books from 1 blogger, a few hundred of another book from a tv show, etc. And sure i'd be happy to talk more about it! Thanks for weighing in.

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