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What To Sell or Give Away?

What are good policies about what to sell?

I sell personalization, privacy, and (partial) control over my attention and time. Those are easy to decide should be sold. I give those away only in limited amounts, particularly to friends and when there’s mutual benefit (e.g. someone wants to discuss a topic that I want to discuss and is able to say things that interest me).

For articles, videos, podcasts, diagrams, etc., what should I sell?

High effort, quality or accessibility stuff can be sold to wide audiences. Stuff with lower polish, accessibility or that’s for a specialized niche can be sold to narrower audiences of hardcore fans.

I don’t want to sell all my accessible stuff and give away the stuff that has less value to most people because then new people are being asked to pay right away.

I don’t want to give away all my accessible stuff and only charge hardcore fans. That limits getting paid and also makes it harder for a fan to transition to be more hardcore after getting interested in some more niche material.

So I think I should both sell and give away some of each type of material. But then how do I decide which stuff to sell or not? What criteria should I use?

Related, I’d generally rather make 5 lower effort things than 1 polished thing. Why? I generally learn more that way. Most polishing and making stuff more accessible doesn’t help much with me figuring out better ideas myself. I think my ideas are good and important enough that making a lot of stuff makes sense; I can quickly make lots of stuff that has value (e.g. lots of my blog posts aren’t edited but are still worth existing). I think there’s a lack of good stuff in the world and I want to make more.

Most people see it differently. They see way too much stuff to engage with and they want to prioritize stuff that packs a little more value into a little less time. If that takes 10x longer to make, that’s fine, they have more than enough stuff to engage with anyway. I think my stuff has unique value and I want to make lots of it, both because I generally like making stuff more than polishing it and because I want way more of my kind of stuff to exist so that the best and most interested people can learn from it.

Anyway, I think these traits are not the way to decide what to sell or give away. But what is?

Another related factor is giving away stuff for free often makes it look lower value to people and they often treat it badly. This can be worse for them (the mistreatment harms their own learning) as well as worse for me in various ways, though I don’t necessarily need to care about this. From The Fountainhead:

When you see a man casting pearls without getting even a pork chop in return—it is not against the swine that you feel indignation. It is against the man who valued his pearls so little that he was willing to fling them into the muck and to let them become the occasion for a whole concert of grunting, transcribed by the court stenographer.

I’ve been flinging pearls into the muck for decades. I’ve reduced that some in the last few years. I could just keep doing it. My life is fine and I can just keep making stuff and learning stuff. Getting people to pay for some stuff and getting a larger audience would have some advantages.

I’ve considered things like having most criticism on a private, paid forum since the general public hates criticism, but being open to public debate and questions is important to me. And I like having lots of stuff publicly accessible. Paywalling ideas, especially above mass market book pricing (like $10), is problematic in some ways.

A different way to look at it is what will people pay for? Saving time. Stuff they can’t get elsewhere. Stuff with practical benefits.

Anyway I make lots of stuff that could maybe be sold, and I think I should sell some of it and make some free. I have some ideas about how not to decide what’s free or paid. I don’t know a good way to decide. Anyone got ideas?

Elliot Temple on October 27, 2020

Messages (9)

Some people sell behind the scenes stuff or director's cuts (longer versions of videos; less condensed), e.g. only patreon subs get that. That fits the strategy of selling more niche stuff to hardcore fans. I don't wanna do only that but it works OK.

Selling stuff I wouldn't make otherwise makes sense. That's another criterion I forgot when writing the article. E.g. I could make worksheets that I think would be useful for people but I definitely wouldn't do that if I was alone on an island. I only want to if people actually care to pay for it.

That's not a full answer though. Just some partial answer.

curi at 5:09 PM on October 27, 2020 | #1 | reply | quote

> I’d generally rather make 5 lower effort things than 1 polished thing.

Then generally keep doing mostly low effort things.

As one incremental improvement to what you're currently doing:

Suppose sometimes when you make a specific lower effort thing, you think it could succeed with a much wider audience as a polished thing. But you don't want to do the polishing effort yourself.

In that case you could offer a business proposition to your hardcore fans who get the low effort thing: Take the low effort thing and polish it. You (ET) maintain editorial control before anything goes out, either free or paid.

If you agree the polished thing is then good enough to be sold, split the profits by some pre-arranged percentage.

If you agree the polished thing is good enough to give away (or want to give it away for other reasons) but not sell, perhaps the fan is OK with that or there's some other provision for compensation like a portion of subscriber fees coming from a referral link in the polished thing.

Apart from the potential profits, the fan also gets to test their understanding of the material. For you, both the polished thing and the lower effort thing exist, and you might make some profit you wouldn't have otherwise made. Seems like a possible win-win.

If none of your hardcore fans want to accept the business proposition and make the polished thing, nothing is lost (you weren't going to do it anyway).

The main problem I can think of is if you also don't want to do the review(s) and corrrection(s) of the hardcore fan's polishing work. You may want to limit that effort by further limiting which hardcore fans you make the business proposition to. But if you don't want to do it at all, then this suggestion won't work.

Andy Dufresne at 5:29 PM on October 27, 2020 | #2 | reply | quote

#2 I'm not convinced that anyone wants to or is able to improve my work like that. I have tried some similar projects before. For example I gave someone a bunch of info about diet/health/weight loss, basically in bullet point form, which they were going to make a polished version of. They didn't do it.

Productive collaboration is one of the many things people might be able to do if they got better at thinking and philosophy. But people are broadly stuck for various reasons.

Types of polishing vary and some are much easier than others, but you don't see people making polished Keynote (slides) presentations of anything I make, nor making summary videos, nor making condensed versions of my streams, or many other ideas. The bottleneck is not coming up with such ideas or me suggesting them. And many don't even require my involvement. The bottleneck is on people actually doing stuff and/or learning to do stuff.

No one else in the FI community has made websites that look noticeably better than mine, for example. Nor do they make stuff using noticeably better art, marketing or video editing skills.

I remain open to such things, but skeptical in some cases (people struggle to talk about my ideas without getting them horribly wrong, let alone polish them). I'm open primarily if the other person suggests an idea they think will work. Chasing people and trying to get them to actually do such things, that I come up with, is mostly a bad idea. It needs to be on their initiative with them as project leader.

curi at 6:00 PM on October 27, 2020 | #3 | reply | quote

Another factor is how much stuff people, even hardcore fans, will buy. There's a limit on $/yr that people will pay. It varies by person and it's often higher than people realize but it's often pretty low (3 figures) for people with little money. It's not a strict limit. E.g. stuff that makes people money can raise the amount they'll pay. And stuff with other really concrete major benefits can raise it too. But as long as people are getting values like knowledge for knowledge's sake, entertainment, and some non-specific better decision making and problem solving in their life then if I make too many paid things sales will drop off compared to when I make fewer paid things.

curi at 12:57 PM on October 28, 2020 | #4 | reply | quote

For low ticket paid stuff you might consider collections of stuff you've already written on particular themes, like the essay books written by Popper and Rand.

oh my god it's turpentine at 3:44 PM on October 28, 2020 | #5 | reply | quote

#5 If I make more organized stuff available (that's a lot of the value in collections of existing stuff), I think it's most needed by some of the people least willing to pay (newbies who are bad at looking through archives). That is unfortunate and relates to the general issues I'm considering.

curi at 3:48 PM on October 28, 2020 | #6 | reply | quote

Jonathan Stark (big on value pricing not hourly billing) sells group coaching (Q&A) sessions. It's $149/mo for access (on sale now for $99 in his newsletter so idk if 149 is a real price). He does two sessions a month.

They're private. Some people pay and ask zero questions.

I could do something similar. But I'd be tempted to make it public. Pay to ask questions. Pay to talk. But free on YouTube later. I like more people having access to my stuff.

But more people will pay for access than will pay to talk. More people want access than want to talk. Interaction seems like a good thing to charge for in various ways – the people who interact actually get more – but only a minority actually want to interact (to the others, apparently it has negative perceived value – more scary and time consuming than helpful). So that's awkward.

curi at 8:54 PM on November 5, 2020 | #7 | reply | quote

You could sell "community topics"

I had this idea thinking about talking with Anne about https://curi.us/2380#18630 and https://curi.us/2380#18656.

You could sell posts on curi.us similar to microblogging threads. Those threads could be topic specific. That's what I mean by "community topics" in the title.

I don't know how you'd price that, but I'd consider purchasing a thread/topic for discussing a collaborative writing method (to facilitate finding a method for https://curi.us/2380#18630).

Max at 4:29 AM on November 15, 2020 | #8 | reply | quote

#8 You're welcome to make an offer on this or whatever else. What would you like to buy at what price? Just let me know.

curi at 12:56 PM on November 15, 2020 | #9 | reply | quote

Want to discuss this? Join my forum.

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