Many creators and businesses look at the digital landscape and decide not to fight the current. Rather than trying to control copying of their work, they seek business models that involve sharing and reuse. Some choose business models built upon openly-licensed content, made with Creative Commons.
We want to write a book about the full spectrum of ways creators and businesses make money to sustain what they do when they give away their work for free under Creative Commons licenses. We’re funding the project through Kickstarter. The book will be freely available to everyone.
There are a few things we know already. Almost by definition, a business model that is made with Creative Commons involves revenue generation from selling something other than CC-licensed content. I say “almost” because crowdfunding and other donation-based models are essentially ways of making money from people who are interested primarily in seeing your content produced. In other cases, revenue comes from sales of non-CC-licensed content, with the CC-licensed content used to introduce and entice people to your work. But often, revenue in business models made with Creative Commons comes primarily from selling something other than digital content — physical goods, personalized services, live performances — or by advertising around content that is bolstered by things like aggregation, curation, and community.
In nearly all of these cases, sharing content with CC licensing can play an important role. Here are five ways sharing can be good for business:
(1) CC as a publicity machine.
At its most basic level, a CC license is a way to move content around the web legally. The CC icon is a universal symbol for sharing, so attaching a CC license to your work signals that you want your content to be shared. As it is shared, your name and website stay connected to the work because every CC license requires reusers to give credit to the original author and link back to the source of the work.
From a public relations standpoint, enabling your work to travel beyond where it is originally posted can be pragmatic. It’s called the “max strategy,” and it means you want as many eyeballs (or users) as possible. Leveraging that large audience or customer base, you can make money in other ways.
(2) CC as an engagement tool.
Applying a CC license that allows remix can take that one step further. By encouraging others to co-create with you, you allow them to contribute to whatever it is you do. This enables you to have a two-way relationship with your audience or users. This sort of collaboration builds loyalty and trust.
This same idea of community-building works when a business hosts content created by others. If that content is under a CC license that allows remix, it can build an interactive community of sharing and co-production on your platform.
(3) CC as a way to leverage outside ideas.
Sharing your content in a way that allows remix allows you to learn from the ways your content is improved by others. This can help you make your content better by harnessing the talents of people outside the organization. No matter what the business or organization, the powers of groupthink and echo chambers are strong. When you open up the opportunity for outside voices to contribute to what you’re doing, you get fresh ideas. This is a major lesson from the free software movement. Your users have valuable insights — learn from them.
(4) CC as a means to creating networks.
Sharing with others makes it more likely they will share back with you. We learned that one when we were in preschool, but it still applies. When you make your content available for reuse, you may end up finding new partners and collaborators, even in unexpected places. This is the “virtuous circle” enabled by sharing content.
(5) CC as a way of increasing social good.
In many contexts, allowing the public to reuse your content can have a real social benefit. This is particularly the case in fields like education and science, but nearly any business that opens up what they are doing to enable access and participation by the public can have an element of social good. This can give your work a higher purpose beyond just profit, which is motivating for you personally and helps garner goodwill from the public. We’re seeing more and more companies that bridge this intersection between social enterprise and profit-making.
We think this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to help us dig deeper into these ideas and discover more ways sharing can benefit business, please support our Kickstarter campaign.
Together, let’s show the world how Creative Commons can be good for business.
-Sarah Hinchliff Pearson
(adapted from a longer piece on this topic published in June 2015)