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Chapter 9

Selling Information

This is not a chapter about current headlines, but about the value of information and how it is transacted on the Internet.

When people first began to discover the Internet, they were excited to have a platform where they could show off a bit. The very spirit of the Internet was in sharing; indeed that is how it began. People were quick to jump aboard and share everything they knew. From recipes for fruitcake to how-to’s for fixing your clothes dryer, the information was there. Search engines evolved to handle this dearth of content, and as they did so, the concept of selling information began.

Google is free, but the advertising you see at the side of the page is not; at least not to those who paid to put it there. That presence is so pervasive, however, that some people actually believe that Google owns the Internet.

Quite to the contrary. You own your content and there are laws to protect that fact.

Obviously, though, this presented a new problem. With the tremendous flow of information comes the question of indeed, who does own it? How can it be harnessed and sold? How can it be licensed?

Companies such as Adobe are early adopters of the concept of cloud computing. In essence, they have migrated away from selling their digital software (a/k/a information) on DVD in a neatly boxed package, to only allowing sale, or rather rental, through their cloud-based servers. A subscriber pays a monthly fee and in return has the use of what was tens of thousands of dollars of software. While it certainly did not make huge digital design companies happy, it put a new career into the hands of young men in Somalia who literally are sitting on the floor of a grass hut with a beat-up laptop in their hands. This calls into question the matter of ethics. Was it ethical for Adobe to benefit from the professional requirements of established tradespeople to an extent that they made these highly regarded tools affordable to those who would never have otherwise been able to compete?

This brings to conversation the question of whether anyone, large company or small, owes it to society to maintain professions? Is the publishing industry owed the respect of being left in the darker ages so that those who work within it might preserve their skills and trade? Does Legal Zoom owe it to attorneys to not sell DIY will kits and incorporations? It is a moral question, but one that consumers are answering. We live in a society of entitlement and consumers want the most control over their own lives they can possibly have.

Therefore, they want to buy information.

You may be surprised what people are willing to pay to find out. You may be even more surprised at what information is readily available for simple sharing.

Is information a product you have to offer? What sort of personal or professional experience has value to others? This changes all the time. Twenty years ago few people cared how to build a website; in fact many resented the introduction of’s website listing in their television advertising. The word, “Internet” was spat out by angry consumers who equated it with downtown peep shows and graffiti. True, some of the baser desires of consumers popped up there first; generally because it was a lawless arena to reach a great many people.

That has all changed. Now, knowing how to not only build a website, but one that is highly functional and refined in a way that ensures it makes money, is invaluable. The professional CEOs of two decades ago now are young people with keyboards.

Take a look, for example, at the real estate market. An agent’s worst nightmare is the client who wants to see a hundred houses and then decides not to move after all. How much gas, time and patience does that cost the agent? How many sales did they miss while dealing with this one potential client?

So agents moved online. It was a natural selection. They had photos, information and were waiting to tap into a larger audience than people who happened to drive by one of their for sale signs. A laptop and a cell phone gave them portable offices in their cars.

This birthed a new generation in their industry. Suddenly anyone who was interested in buying a foreclosure hungered for information about how to do it. People who were planning to re-locate across country could narrow down their search ahead of time via the Net. They could compare properties, check on current property taxes, Google Earth view the area and what it had to offer, research the schools, churches and medical care the area provided. They could apply for mortgage prequalification and price insurance and moving costs. They could sign up for cable television and have their telephone transferred. There was, in fact, very little need for the customer to visit an area before actually buying the house.

They became highly educated buyers. The work of an agent was greatly reduced, but their necessity was shifted to a source of information. The progressive agent built a reputation for knowing which foreclosures were good buys and which were nightmares about to happen. They knew where businesses were likely to expand and where they were to close. They had access to property information that had yet to be entered into computers. They could explain the logic of investing in multi-family dwellings. They understood the deals for first time homebuyers and how you qualify for special financing in blighted areas.

They had the information. More importantly, their efforts in learning all this paid off many times more because they weren’t helping just a small handful of potential customers; they were addressing a much larger audience and could actually control where someone moved based on the opportunities in living there.

They sold it. Sometimes in a book, or simply through their website. They taught seminars in real estate investment through membership sites they built and offered expert opinions on concepts that most homebuyers had never considered. Designers jumped in to provide 3-D, 360-degree home viewings online and insurance agents began developing Twitter followers. It was an industry revolution and those who knew what they were doing offered to sell what they knew—for a price.

Yes, if your life’s goal is to find out how KFC makes their fried chicken, you can find it on the Net. But if you want to leverage what you know to people who want to learn it—you are sitting on a goldmine.