Free vs Paywall content


Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
This was slightly inspired by the thread for Q&D, but I hope that this conversation doesn't devolve. Rather, I'm genuinely interested in thoughts on the trend as a whole.

There is a growing trend in many industries to provide free content. (I think this is mainly due to the explosion of the internet, but that's another story). As we all know, in the fitness industry it's expected to provide vast amounts of free information. If you don't constantly do Twitter/IG/whatever and have a regular blog, the path to financial success is a little bit steeper. There is a sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle message that if you are going to charge a fee for a product, you need to offer a corresponding amount of products for free.

It's interesting that some industries have this mental barrier for consumers that the information should come for free. Journalism has suffered greatly; as a regular follower of many sports, I know that when the online magazine The Athletic started putting paywalls for certain articles, there was an uproar not only with the company, but with the journalists themselves - as if wanting income for their work was heresy. I feel the fitness industry is the same. I listen to the Peter Attia podcast, and he recently put a paywall on all podcasts that are an "AMA' style, while so far keeping all other interview based podcasts free. I'm actually torn on this one - I really enjoy his info but struggle with the yearly and monthly cost to subscribe. I'll admit I was actually kind of mad about it- like all the work he's doing for the podcast was only worthwhile to me at no cost. Then I realized how crazy that thought was.

I'm interested in hearing other's opinions on this matter. Do you feel hurt if you have to pay for something that you don't think should require a fee? Do you think it's wrong to have any free content at all and everything should be for purchase? How do you feel when there is a mix of paid for/free content? Where is the line? Would you buy a product that you may not really want, but comes from somebody/some company that has provided you with a vast amount of free information?

Pavel Macek

Level 9 Valued Member
Master Certified Instructor
Free, payed, doesn't matter - what is important is the quality of information. I am a member of a few payed instructional portals (combat arts, stoicism... ), and the membership is worth every single cent.

I am always more than happy to support my favorite authors - it means they will write more books, shoot more videos, share more of their knowledge - and I will learn more, faster, safer, without reinventing the wheel.

Steve W.

Level 7 Valued Member
I am very reluctant to subscribe to content behind a paywall when:
1. I don't have a strong sense of the type of content, the amount of content, and the quality of the content.
2. The content relies on an individual and not an established organization.
3. The content is not the main business of the organization, but a sideline, upsell, or "premium" add-on.

So I currently only have one content subscription, The New York Times. I've been a Times reader for decades and switched over to a digital subscription because I live in the suburbs and the physical paper gets delivered too late for me to read it in the morning (I get up very early to have breakfast, walk the dog, read the "paper" and mentally prepare for my day. The Times also has a digital "replica edition," which is a digital facsimile of the printed paper, which I much prefer to reading the article in website format (even though the navigation format of the replica edition is diabolically, sadistically terrible).

I'm a big sports fan, so I am considering a subscription to The Athletic. In contrast, based on its free content, there is no way I would consider spending a penny on ESPN+.


Level 5 Valued Member
I think the big problem is that "free" content has traditionally been driven by advertising, which is all well and good. A line was crossed on the internet when sites would display misleading (at best) and actually harmful (at worst) advertisements. Internet users, rightfully so, have decided to start blocking advertisements. This leaves certain forms of media scrambling to figure out a way to earn revenue again.

Also, journalism has suffered greatly at the hands of "journalists" themselves.

P.S. Just to clarify and avoid debate, I'm not alluding to politics. I'm referring to the deluge of headlines which end with "...(person) says", "...according to (unrelated third party)", etc. Things that are basically tabloid-tier have become all too common.
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North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
I think if you're pitching what amounts to a service, in a crowded market, you should put up a bit of free high quality material.

After that folks should pay for stuff that takes skill and experience to generate. A free teaser from time to time, excerpts, but actionable or at least very little.

Look at S Maxwell's approach. His site has plenty of snippets, video demo of individual lifts and a few circuits, Q&A with various clients and others, but very little you could put together and say "this is a Maxwell program".

You're free to contact him...

The less market presence/brand recognition you have, the more free stuff you will have to put out there initially. After that, what good does it do to pump free stuff if you go broke doing it. Better to speak quietly to a smaller audience than shout into a crowd.


Level 8 Valued Member
Good or bad, if it’s behind I paywall 98% of the time it’s not for me.

People should be compensated for their work. It’s unquestionable. But a lot of stuff that interests me is more “nice to have” than “need,” and from that view my budget will normally go towards high quality food before a new book or subscription.


Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Interesting to see the varied responses here.

I think what really drives it for me, as @Pavel Macek has said, is that the information is the quality of information. The catch here, of course, is that sometimes you don't know the quality of the information if there is no free content beforehand! I know that I have bought an individual or organizations's content directly because their free content was so good (Tim Anderson and OS come to mind), but I don't necessarily think that is a pre-requisite. That being said, I'm struggling to come up with a fitness industry related book/product that I had NOT read free content prior from the author.

Steve Freides

Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@wespom9, you've gotten a number of different responses, but they're all from the point of view of a consumer, IMHO. A business needs revenue, and a broader look at "free" content, again IMHO, is that it's a different business model than charging for directly for all goods, but it's still a business model and it still brings in revenue and someone's still paying for it, somehow.

I think there are lots of opportunities for everyone to be a winner in the free content model, e.g., in my music teaching career, I offer all my first lessons for free. I hope a first lesson will be the beginning of a long-term relationship that will bring me income, and I want prospective students to take a chance in coming to see me for the first time that they might not if it cost money. I give because I'm also hoping to receive, and I also give because I believe strongly in the value of what I offer for what I get paid, and it's all driven my love of and passion for music.

Are my first free lessons all that different from the grocery store offering 12-packs of 16 oz. Pepsi for $12? We are both hoping to "get you into the store" and that once you're inside, you'll like what you find, feel you've found good quality and good value.

What I do here at StrongFirst is also a passion, as I think it is for all of us who have been part of StrongFirst for a long time - we believe that helping people become stronger can make the world a better place, and that's why we do it, but we've also decided on our particular mix of what we offer for free and what we charge for. And like any other business, we hope that what you find here for free encourages you to buy some of what we sell, too.

And there is the whole history of the Internet to consider as well - it began as a kind of cooperative. I wrote a lot of things in the late 1980's and 1990's that were posted in free sites online by a magazine that "paid" me in prestige for being a writer. They hoped my articles would bring them more magazine subscribers, and I hoped my articles would enhance my reputation and bring me more business. (I had an entire career in computers, specifically custom PC software, during a break in my music teaching career - roughly 1990 to 2010 or so.)

Glass half empty: nothing is really free.

Glass half full: free content is a wonderful way to introduce people to products and services you believe add value to lives. It's 'try before you buy' and that, sometimes also known as a "loss leader," is a win/win if what you're selling is good.




Level 5 Valued Member
FWIW the “train on your own” section and these forums are amazing quality for free — especially for the bold souls who post videos of themselves! I own S&S and naked warrior. The material in the books and on the website “sold” me in the content, but also connected me with local SFGs and an associated gyms. It’s how I found @Tony Gracia and his Industrial Strength gym (happy to recommend those folks if you’re in Portland BTW).

Maine-ah KB

Level 7 Valued Member
Okay so I have worked in retail in retail for years. one thing we should remember is that if your not buying something then you are the product. for instance Facebook is free to use, and they make money via selling our information to advertisers. Free Programs, tips and advice are best used to get people interested, give potential consumers a taste of what to expect. SF has MANY free program and advice that based on what ive seen I basically auto buy a lot of there merchandise (I even bough Reloaded and I've never seriously trained with a barbell before)
Put simply I like free content if its a good representation of what the business stands for. I will pay for products that I believe in.


Level 8 Valued Member
Another take on the business perspective:

My wife works in the very entrepreneurial side of health/wellness world. More heavy on the diet and lifestyle side than fitness specifically, but often hand in hand. For example, the owner of her company is BFFs with the Bulletproof Coffee guy.

Every year they put on a huge week-long conference for these folks on how to brand, how to get your podcast out there, build your email list, get a NY times bestseller, network, and so on.

Their members that make the most sales are the ones that provide science and knowledge that can be used APART from their product. The ones that give all their info but the only solution is their product, those are the worst performers.

I kinda see that as relating. Useful information APART from the product is the “free” content that then drives people to purchase behind the “paywall.”

A different way of saying what some above already have...

Steve Freides

Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Their members that make the most sales are the ones that provide science and knowledge that can be used APART from their product. The ones that give all their info but the only solution is their product, those are the worst performers.
To "make the most sales" has never been our mission at StrongFirst. We want to make ourselves known to everyone so that those who are interested will find us. Put another way, we are not troubled by anyone's lack of interest in StrongFirst, only by someone's lack of awareness of who we are and what we stand for.



Level 6 Valued Member
Forgive me for a grumpy old man rant here.

The internet has had two very significant effects on content makers:

* The barrier to entry is almost nothing. Back in the dinosaur age, it cost a significant amount of money to make your content available - it required investors, who took risks on your behalf. Investors (i.e. publishers) took a risk on their content providers, and they wanted as much assurance as possible that they were placing a good bet. So there was a significant vetting process before content ever reached the consumer. With the internet, it cost nothing to publish. This means that genius content can make its way to consumers without the interference of investors who don't recognize it - that's good. It also means any idiot can publish anything. So, between geniuses and idiots, which do you suppose is more common?

* Back in the dinosaur age, consumers were also taking a risk - they had to pay to see if the content was worthwhile, not the other way around. They had two means of mitigating that risk. First, the vetting process of the publishers; consumers could judge the likelihood of good content based on the publisher's ability to recognize quality content in the past. Per my first point, this to a large degree no longer exists, except to old people like myself who trust publishers who survived in the dinosaur age (example: chairman Pavel). Second, consumers could rely on the opinions of professional critics - people who staked their reputation (and livelihood) on their ability to recognize and recommend quality content. Think of the power that Siskel and Ebert held over the movie industry in the 80s (google them, young folks). This too has been effectively obliterated by the internet; the market for critics has been flooded just like the content provider market, and the genius/idiot ratio favors idiots. So in the end, the consumer has lost the two most effective methods they had of judging their risk in paying for content. It is no wonder, then, that they are unwilling to take that risk and pay, particularly when free options (of questionable quality) are available.

So, interestingly, the net effect of the internet has been to shift all of the risk in the content generation market away from publishers or consumers, and instead put it squarely on the content creators. Imagine if this same effect had occurred in your profession. In the white collar work world, employers are taking a risk on employees, paying a guaranteed salary largely independent of performance of the employee or company. But imagine someone had told you in college that <insert profession here> has the potential for very high profitability, but only if you manage to convince the general populous (who may be entirely un-knowledgeable about the field) that you are one of the best, and you would probably have to spend years not getting paid for your work to try and convince people of that. Would you have pursued that profession? My opinion is that most talented people would instead seek out fields with a better expected return on investment, and the only people who would enter it would be those who don't mind failing, either because they already have all they want/need financially, or because they live in their parent's basement. In other words, it will discourage some of the geniuses, who have other options they can pursue.

My point (if I actually have one) is that the nature of the internet free-economy is to depress quality. I said in the Q&D thread, the best way to rob something of value is to make it free.

I wish I saw a way to turn that tide. One would like to believe in a glorious revolution of the consumer, taking ownership of themselves (as @Maine-ah KB correctly noted, they are now the product) and rejecting the crap. Unlikely. Or, we might one day rely on AI to decide what is quality and what is crap. Terrifying.

My name is Hulk, and I approve this message.
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Level 3 Valued Member
I'm not hurt if the information I'm after is behind a paywall, just sad if I couldn't afford a subscription. Writing well is not an easy job to do, so I understand why some would resort to this.
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