The Economics of Free at #SMWiAccra

#SMWiAccra on Anansi and the Dragon

If you love free stuff like I do, you’d love what I have for you at the end of the article.

For starters, I didn’t look forward to the Social Media Week in Accra with much anticipation. It wasn’t until late in the week before I registered. My mindset at the time was: “Go for the first sessions and see how it goes. After all, it was free.”

And so I was there for the beautiful launch by Anita Erskine and the Echo House Group on the first day. And then #SMWiAccra started at the Accra Mall…very late.

If you are Ghanaian, these things will never surprise you. GMT has long been shorthand for Ghana Man Time, and so when a programme slated for 10 am eventually began around 11 am, my only problem was when we would have our free lunch.

It never happened, but I never complained.

Sure, Beta Malt gave us free drinks and there were many Blue Crystal water bottles for participants of #SMWiAccra inside the Silverbird Cinema. Hidden by the late start to activities, though, were kernels of insight into digital that would have cost over a thousand Ghana Cedis elsewhere. And of all the information stream I received at Social Media Week in Accra, it was the unofficial death of “Content is King” and the rise of “Audience is King” that proved priceless.

In the short time he had on stage, Daniel of ZroNet hammered on the importance of free content and content access. Sitting far down the list of worldwide internet affordability, Ghana’s expensive data bundles meant a lot of the content produced on the internet was not accessible to the public. You could have the most beautiful images and videos on the social media platforms, but if the audience didn’t see it, then your chance of making money on the content was close to zero.

If you are reading this though, then you can also get “Anans’s Lies” for free.

 

#FreeSHS is not free after all

 

Students of Public Policy understand this. The social interventions government embarks on are funded by taxes and special levies paid for by the public. Even when loans are acquired from the Chinese governement, our children and their children will bear the brunt of it all; heck, you and I might be contributing to the interest payments a few years down the line.

Free TV and radio are subsidized by advertisers. It is why you have to sit through obnoxious ads just to watch and listen to your favourite programmes. They are all over YouTube now, these ads, and they are annoying. Yes, but unlike legacy media (TV, radio, and print), creators are making real-time money with every click of the button.

Facebook’s Free Basics is locked in its own battles about what apps it allows on the thin, limited platform the Basics is built on, and by which service providers you could use to reach them. What these free stuff do, and what Daniel and his ZroNet propose at the #SMWiAccra, is a guaranteed access to the market for your content.

Audience is king is an old trick

In a way, this is not a new thing. Indie publishers always advise first time authors to make at least one copy of their books free for those who opt-in to their subscriber’s list. The idea is not the book you are giving out; the focus is on building the list, the audience, so that you could build a loyal following and sell future products to them.

Creating good content was essential in building a brand, but having the right market access it will grow your brand.

In fact, #SMWiAccra is itself built on the Economics of Free. The audience got to attend for free. They even had discounts to watch movies at the Silverbird. In exchange, brands like Vodafone, Beta Malt, etc., paid them to be able to have access to the audience. They helped finance the event so they could have mileage for their products, and also an audience for future targeting.

Keyhole says #SMWiAccra received over 3,000,000 impressions over the past two days alone. That meant three million times people saw, loved, and shared that hashtag. That is a market for Echohouse, for the brands, and their ability to leverage that audience to market future products will affect how much quality content they can sell.

 

Like I promised, I have a collection of stories dubbed, “Anansi’s Lies.” You can download you copy for free here.

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