The Key to winning the battle against FREE

One of the challenges that I put to my MBA classes is:

What would you do if your core product/offer had to be FREE – as of tomorrow? What would you do? How would the business survive?


This is not a hypothetical question only; as many businesses face this conundrum today:




  • -          The music business (with a flow on music retailers)

  • -          Newspapers (with a flow-on to newsagents)

  • -          Training

  • -          Consulting & Coaching

  • -          Publishing (with a flow-on to Book stores)


Of course the free frenzy is driven by the disruptive properties of the internet. In this excellent post Kevin Kelly identifies 8 values that cannot be copied, and hence are excellent antidotes against ‘free.’ His assertion is that the Internet is giant copy machine and that anything that can be copied is worth nothing. It is kinda mind-blowing but absolutely true. The purpose of his essay was somewhat different, but I see it as a great checklist to evaluate your business model against. Is, or can your core proposition be improved and embedded with any number of these ‘generative’ values.


Immediacy. Being first. Not just being quick – because second has no more value than third; only first counts. Is your offer capable of being positioned as, and capable of being delivered first?


Personalization . This is more than customisation – it is when a product or service is uniquely suited to the individual. How can you make your product/service offer personalised?


Interpretation. As the old joke goes: software, free; the manual, $10,000. Information and data is free. The bits and bytes of software… all free. There is no value in the ‘bits’ – all the value lie in the interpretation and meaning of that information/data.


Authenticity . I relate this to ‘trust’ as well. People will pay for information/ services that are authentic, original and ‘genuine’.  Can you make your experience authentic?


Accessibility. The new economy values ‘connectivity’ – not ownership. The music can be stored on iTunes, the blogger can store the book on a server; but the value lies in being able to consume on demand, without having deal with the hassle of ownership and having to manage physical possessions.


Kelly discusses a few more, and reading the original is highly recommended.


As always, the challenge is what to do with this information? It is easy to turn around and tend to business as usual – after having skimmed through the blog. But where will you be; where will your business be in 5 years if everything you sold today, was available free. How would you survive?