At the beginning of this week I asked the question: is free content devaluing membership? While there’s no denying that free is a hard number to compete with, associations do provide value in the way they provide their content. Just look at iTunes: Napster, and the myriad of clones that followed, threatened to upend the music industry. Who would pay money for music when a free download was just a click away? As it turns out, iTunes was the answer the music industry was looking for. So what was the key to iTunes success?
The first thing Steve Jobs did was to listen. Technology was opening up a new avenue for distribution, and consumers were changing lanes to follow it in droves. The Market had spoken, and what it was saying was clear: consumers wanted an alternative to the inconvenience of shopping for music at brick-and-mortar stores. The demand for a digital marketplace was evident.
The second thing Jobs did was to innovate. In the early days of Napster, finding the exact song you wanted, by the artist you wanted, could be a cumbersome chore. Without any centralized quality control, you could never be 100% sure that you were getting exactly what you were looking for. Combine that with the risk of downloading malware and the potential to face jail-time, and the hidden “cost” of free starts to appear. When you download a song from iTunes, you know that you are getting exactly what is advertised, and you know that it’s perfectly legal. Jobs made paying a small fee per song more convenient than pirating it for free.
The exclusive content you provide to your paying members may be accessible elsewhere for free. And with the power of Google, finding that content is only a few key-strokes away. But any given search is likely to yield thousands or millions of results. And, if someone is looking for information in a specialized field, it can be hard to gauge the reliability of the content they are receiving. As an association, this is an area where you provide tremendous value. You’re a haven for strictly vetted material. You remove the guess work. So how do you deliver your content utilizing today’s technology? With a reliable and easy to use content management system, or CMS.
There’s a sea of options for choosing which CMS is right for your organization, but it’s unlikely you’ll find one “out-of-the-box” that has all of the tools you’ll want to fit your specific needs. A customized CMS platform is definitely the way to go, especially for large associations. Another thing to keep in mind is how quickly things change.
Technology changes at the speed of thought.
If you want to make sure your information haven is keeping up to speed with all the shifts in technology, you’ll want to utilize a strategic partner to be your Sherpa up the mountain of technology. They will help you stay current with trends, help you stay on the leading edge without being cut by the bleeding edge. They will help you thoroughly test your website for functionality and ease of use. They’ll help you conquer the market instead of being devoured by it.
When looking at a market dominated by “free”, it’s important to look at all of the factors surrounding that. “Free” often comes with some pretty hefty costs, and that is where you as an association can provide a tremendous amount of value. The organization and reliability you offer to your members really is priceless.
We’d love to hear your ideas. Sound off in the comments below.