“In the early days of the Internet, [Ragan Communications’] strategy of free online content made sense. Internet users were a small percentage of the total population. Content providers needed to gain an understanding of online behavior. And the technology for restricting access was in the preliminary development.” So said a software specialist in a trade magazine to justify one company’s former policy of “giving away the store” – i.e. allowing “visitors to view, copy, and print content from any of [their] publications.”
I’m not sure whether the person who wrote this was ingenuous or simply trying to sugarcoat the truth. And the truth is this: Giving away free information was never the problem. The problem was giving away all of it and providing it free via a website.
Even in the so-called early days of the Internet Revolution, those who promoted the idea of giving away the house were wrong. It doesn’t make sense now and it didn’t make sense then. Yes, you can give away plenty of good information, but you must save your most valuable information for your paying customers. If not, then how are you going to stay in business?
“As more and more people went online and the Internet became a mainstream medium,” the writer continued, “Ragan’s ‘free for all’ strategy started to affect sales – especially renewals.”
“Our telephone reps would call a subscriber who had cancelled and ask why. The subscriber would respond, ‘I can get all your content for free online. Why should I renew?'” said Brett Spearing, Ragan’s director of Web services.
After Ragan figured it out in October of 2003, they began restricting access to their website and things started improving. Nowadays, when people go to the site they can get a concise description of the articles Ragan publishes – but if they want to read them, they must become a subscriber.
Good for Ragan. But this is only a small fraction of what they need to do.
Developing a large, profitable information business on the Internet is very possible, especially if you have good content, as Ragan does.
But the Web side of the business is only a portion of it. Depending on Web traffic for most information products is ineffective because of the Most Important Secret of Information Publishing (MISofIP):
Nobody needs more information. What is needed is reliable advice about how to use that information to achieve goals.
If you understand that secret – truly understand it (most marketing experts I have talked to think they do, but don’t) – then you will understand why the Web-based model is not the right one for information publishing.
There is a reason why, prior to the Internet Revolution, most of the best information businesses used a direct-mail model for marketing. It is because of the MISofIP and also because of one of the fundamental rules of direct-response marketing:
People don’t really know what they want until you help them feel it.
This is a marketing secret so profound and powerful in its application that I’m just going to say it here and let it stand.
I don’t know anything about Ragan’s Internet marketing operations other than the bit that the aforementioned specialist explained in the trade magazine. But if they were my client, I’d tell them this: If you want to really improve your business – double your sales and quadruple your profits – don’t worry so much about your website and website traffic optimization. Focus your attention on applying the model you use in the mail to the Internet.
If you are relatively new to the Internet game and not quite sure what the hell I’m talking about, know this:
1. The Internet is revolutionizing the world.
2. If you understand how it operates, it can revolutionize your business.
3. Understanding the potential of the Internet means becoming an expert in both Internet marketing generally and direct-response marketing in particular. (You can do both by purchasing ETR’s recommended programs for each: Direct Marketing: Quick Start program and Direct Marketing: Master’s Edition, as well as by attending our upcoming Internet Marketing Conference August 25-28.)
We give away plenty of good information every day in Early to Rise – advice on how to become wealthier, healthier, and wiser. By providing the best advice we have to those who want it, we build up loyalty.
Businesspeople who are already successful can profit enormously by reading ETR every day to get a nugget of information or a bit of strategy that could boost their sales, increase their repeat orders, and/or improve their bottom line. But most ETR readers are in the earlier stages of success – still working to improve their income, start a side business, and invest more profitably. For those readers, we provide many comprehensive home-study programs that allow them to quickly acquire the skills, contacts, and financing they need to achieve their dreams.
These very specialized, very targeted, very effective programs cost us millions each year to put together. But ETR readers are happy to pay for them, because they understand that the value they provide, in addition to the content they get from our daily messages, can change their lives.
That’s the essence of being a successful Internet publisher.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]