Last week I launched a video course called The Best Free SQL Server Downloads. It costs $29, and I gave out coupon codes to drop it to $19 for the launch.
I expected to get a few questions:
How Can You Charge People for a List of Free Stuff?
If you’ve ever watched TV late at night, you’ve probably stumbled across one of Matthew Lesko’s informercials. He wears a suit covered in question marks, and he sells information about how to get free money from the government.
I have never bought one of Lesko’s books. The cynic in me says, “Yeah, right – there’s no free money anywhere.” On the other hand, my relatives in the medical and social work industries tell me that there is indeed plenty of government help out there through various programs, free for the taking. Well, not exactly free – obviously there’s fierce competition for it, and it only gets worse as more people buy Lesko’s book. Government money is a zero-sum game – there’s only so much of it to go around.
But somebody’s buying them. A lot of somebodies.
When I worked at Quest Software, we hired an SEO company to tell us what SQL Server topics were the hottest in demand. Because I worked with customers who wanted to make their SQL Servers faster, I expected SQL Server performance tuning to be #1 on the list.
Not even close.
The #1 term on the list: free SQL Server downloads.
It got more specific after that, like people looking for free scripts, free tools, free books, etc, but the dominant thing they all had in common was “free”.
And it starts to make sense when you put yourself in the frame of mind of the typical DBA. They’re alone in their organization, with no support staff, nobody else who understands what they do, and no budget for tools or training. They know there’s gotta be good stuff out there, but when you search for free SQL Server downloads, the results are actually pretty crappy.
I’ve been using SQL Server for over a decade, and I’ve got one heck of a list of good free tools. I’ve spent a ton of time sifting through a bunch of shady, bogus, non-maintained stuff, and gotten it down to just a core set that I use on a daily basis.
I gambled that people would be willing to pay $19-$29 for my list of tools, and video demos of how to use them. After all, a lot of the good free stuff out there comes with no instructions whatsoever, and it can take you quite a while to figure it out. (Just last month, Jeremiah taught me about the @get_task_info parameter for sp_WhoIsActive, and I never would have known how useful it was if he hadn’t taught me.)
How Can You Make Money Off the Work of Others?
I actually expected this question, and it never came. I bet it just got mumbled quietly or behind closed doors.
All bloggers, presenters, and book authors piggyback off Microsoft’s work on SQL Server. We’re building the missing training documentation for somebody else’s product. Some of it’s available for free, and some costs money, and the market seems to be okay with that.
I could have totally built these training videos and uploaded them to YouTube. They’d be massively popular. But…I do that already. We have an incredibly active YouTube channel where we give away dozens of hours of video training. Every week, we write new material, pay WebEx so we can host free training sessions, encode the uploads, and maintain our video archive pages. Each of us spends probably 1-3 hours per week working on this free video stuff.
People love it, and we’ll absolutely keep doing that for free as a service to the community.
But sometimes, if I’m going to do something that has a tremendous bang for the buck, I’ll spend extra time working on it. I’ll set up my green screen, lights, and videocamera rig in my office. I’ll record it in high definition, produce it to make it look better, and then upload it in 720p or 1080p. It takes me about two days of work to write and record 90 minutes worth of really good videos. The resulting product is fantastic, and it’s totally worth the $29. Heck, in the first five minutes of the first video, I show how to get $200-$300 of training for free – it pays for itself several times over – and I know the buyer would never find that content if they were just searching the web for free SQL Server downloads.
If I’m doing my job right, this video will lead to more people working with these free tools, linking to them, and training others on how to use ’em. Everybody wins.
Do You Really Think Anybody Will Buy It?
I knew from working with my consulting clients that the vast, vast majority of them don’t know about this free stuff. They might know one or two, but not all of them.
You, dear reader, are not my target market. You’re already smarter than the average bear. If you’ve been subscribing to my SQL Server blog, watching our webcasts, attending our user group sessions, and so on, then you’re different. You have a relatively large amount of spare time that you can use to sharpen your knives, and you’ll pick up on a lot of stuff over time.
Most SQL Server users don’t have that kind of time. They are overwhelmed with their day job, and when a problem strikes, they Google it. They want a complete answer, start to finish, in a single, easy-to-digest web page. That’s why Pinal Dave is so successful – he really understands what most SQL Server users are looking for. My downloads video is aimed at people who are struggling with problems, don’t have much time, and don’t have a corporate budget. At $29, they can just buy the video themselves and become a sharper DBA. It’s not so expensive that they have to worry about getting the company to pay for it.
So I took a gamble – that’s the fun part of working for yourself. You get to act on a hunch. My hunch paid off – we sold over 100 in the first week. That amazed me, because I really didn’t build it for most of our blog readers – I built it for the long term. I think it’s going to sit well in search results and have a long future ahead of it.
What If Someone Else Builds a List of Free SQL Server Scripts and Stuff?
I sincerely hope they do, and I hope every free project works harder on their documentation to make it easier for new users. At one point or another, I’ve talked to every community project person (Adam Machanic about sp_WhoIsActive, Ola Hallengren about his maintenance scripts, etc) trying to get them to sell a $19-$29 training course on how to use their product. Would you buy a 90-minute, $29 course from Adam Machanic showing how he uses sp_WhoIsActive to solve SQL Server problems? I sure as hell would.
It amazes me to write this, but even sp_Blitz™ has gotten complex enough that I could probably sell a $29, 90-minute in-depth video on how to use the advanced features like plan cache analysis and logging to a table. I’d love to do it for free and give it away, too, but if I don’t put a price tag on it, I’m probably never going to get motivated enough to take the two days off, write the demos, write the decks, and record it all. I’m sure other free tool authors are in the same boat.