I had already dropped three quarters into the meter before I saw the flashing message: “No parking. Construction only. You will be towed. January 2, 2007.”
It had taken me 40 minutes to find that spot. There was no construction nearby. And I was pretty damned sure that it was 2015. That is until I heard the theme song from “The Little Rascals” coming from the suit pocket of the guy sitting at the café I was parked in front of. At that point, boiling over with rage at this effed-up city and temporally unhinged from the anachronistic no-parking notice, you might have convinced me that it was 1969 and I was sitting in the big red chair in my mom’s living room, playing hooky and watching The Little Rascals.
The guy let the song play out its natural break before he answered (wouldn’t you?), staring at me with that “dig me” look that this town is known for. Rather than irritate me, the guy’s ring-tone home-run trot actually reminded me of a very important lesson about successful communication that I’d been meaning to talk to you about.
On October 24, 1936, Hal Roach released “Pay as You Exit,” The Little Rascals 148th and arguably most important short comedy film. You see, the 74-year-old “Pay as You Exit” short actually holds the secret to successful communication in the 21st century—it is better to give THEN receive.
The plot of the show is simple: in order to attract an audience to their production of Romeo and Juliette, Alfalfa invites everyone to see the show for free and tells them to pay as they exit only if they enjoyed the performance.
And it is precisely that simple formula that is separating the communication winners from the losers on the Internet. Organizations that freely give away their best material are attracting people who are interested in their key issues—some of whom would be willing to pay for a deeper dive in the info pool.
Those who are still hoarding their cache of information in hopes of attracting pay-to-play customers are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a world where knowledge is free. Sure, your organization may be the uncontested champion of the arcane details of your “highly specialized” field, but if you are hiding that info behind membership dues, outrageous download fees, or other monetary considerations, you won’t be the champ for long. People will find a free way around you.
You will fare much better giving away as much information as you can, attracting those interested in your topic to your helpful, free platform, and developing a reputation as the go-to resource on your given issue. If you’re content is as good as you think it is, you’ll have plenty of people paying as they exit … and even more when they tell their friends about your amazing website.
A little known fact: The actual title to the Little Rascals’ theme song is “Good Old Days,” which presumably referred to a simpler pre-20th century era—a time before people viewed information solely as a commodity. Back in the 20th century, nobody gave away information. (You think Hal Roach let his audience “pay as they exit”?) So when we start giving away our content, we are not marching forward into some brave new world. We’re actually returning to a much more natural way of communicating with people.