Would anyone pay for a cow if they can get milk for free? The abundance of free content on the Internet has made it tough for anyone trying to charge for it, from porn purveyors to online news sites to social networks.
Back in 2007 I wondered how free content might impact consultant companies selling pricey IT research, like IDC, Gartner and Forrester. Would they see their businesses suffer as some folks decided to use free alternatives ranging from informational blogs to general searches refined by Google Ad Words? If anything, options for free research and ad hoc consulting opportunities have grown over the past two years, with plenty of folks joining business-oriented forums on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and turning to other members for advice.
Many consulting companies responded by beefing up their own Internet presence with analyst blogs, research summaries and other free content. This is a variation of the same model widely considered a success for The Wall Street Journal, luring folks in with some free stuff and then getting them to pay for more "premium" content. The argument: People might not pay for milk, but many of them may shell out the bucks for sirloin. WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch is so convinced of this paid/free content model that he plans to introduce it at all of his News Corp. sites within a year.
The most recent quarter doesn't appear to have been kind to consulting companies, if Gartner's results are any indication. And interestingly, technology blog sites like TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb appear to be getting into the business of producing research reports.
With the economy still reeling, lots of companies are keeping a close eye on their IT budgets and looking to attain quick returns from their spending. It's pretty tough to connect the dots between buying IT research and improving outcomes. This raises all kinds of questions, of course. Can you get enough nourishment from free milk? Will companies find it tough to cut meat from their diets? Will they be willing to pay for hamburger but not for sirloin?