The Princeton Review and the Power of Free

Over at the Oxford University Press USA blog, Evan Schnittman shares a fascinating history of his time at The Princeton Review, and especially some of the lessons to be learned from the value of "free" in promoting print sales:

When I entered the company a few years later TPR had already started publishing college guides. These guides had been, like the test prep industry, dominated by a couple of brands. One key difference to the approach that TPR took was that it secured digital rights for the titles so that it could build a web based platform that contained all the data found in its guidebooks. Though Random House was never thrilled with the free content being out there, TPR launched a free website that had over 2mm unique visitors a month primarily viewing the same content that was available in the books that Random House published.

So what happened to the books? By my recollection they grew about 20% per year – it seemed that the more visitors that the TPR site had, the more books we seemed to sell. Free content was driving book sales and expanding the brand! The free content was interesting, it was intriguing, it was fun to play with – but 10 years later there is still a thriving book market for college guides even though almost every company that collects college data posts the content free online. 100% free content can drive print sales! [emphasis added]

The full post is well worth a read.