David Meerman Scott on why ‘white papers rarely go viral’

In WebInkNow, marketer David Meerman Scott has a great take on register-to-download white papers versus free-to-share ebooks. My favorite quote is “…white papers rarely go viral.”

When I find things I want to share online, it’s frustrating when companies (or people) create a barrier to sharing it. It could be register-to-read white papers or required-registration articles in the Wall Street Journal or Advertising Age. I’d share AMA MarketingPower articles more, except that I know people have to create an account (even if it’s free) to read them.

Another barrier is having figure out how to rewrite a long Tweet in order to retweet it via the edit-first method (hint: if you want people to share the great idea on Twitter, leave room for “RT @yourusername_ …and leave even more room if you think people will want to add a comment). It turns “click RT and move on” into: “How do I keep their tracking link, reference their username, possibly keep the title, and attribute everything properly?”

I suspect lots of your followers will just give up and see what’s next in their stream, even when they were ready, willing, and able to help your content go viral.

Not all whitepapers require registration (and not all ebooks are free). I’ll admit, I’ve used register-to-download white papers myself. But that’s because I decided it made business sense to use the ‘closed’ approach, because getting qualified leads was worth more to me than spreading the information. My Frontline Results marketing blog is the opposite, as everything is freely available.

From a business perspective, I think it comes down to this:

  • are you confident enough to set your information free (and ‘make it up on volume,’ sort of like a CPM advertising model), or
  • are your focusing on getting leads or subscribers (like a targeted, results-oriented CPC ad campaign)?

Which do you prefer for your business: registration model or free-to-share model?



  1. says


    Man, you’re fast. I pushed the button on the blog post, went to take a shower, and you had already added to the discussion. Needless to say I totally agree with you! Thanks, David

  2. says

    Thanks, David! Your ‘open vs closed’ topic was compelling and I just had to write about it. And it was about timing, too: I’d just seen a great concept on Twitter that required major re-writing for me to share it. Not everyone will take the time to do that.

  3. says

    I prefer free whenever possible for the reasons stated above and because registration-based or fee-based content is unreliable in its quality.

    Recently, whilst doing marketing research in the mortgage banking space, I uniformly would NOT use sites like American Banker as they required registrations and $$$. Add to that, when a photo-copy of an article from a them or other registration-only sources was laid on our desktop was it rarely so insightful that we learned more than what we had from publicly accessible sites.

    I have a client that has a lot of content that is paid for by their clients. That must be kept private to those clients.

    Except for instances of that sort its a rare thing where pay-for-content or register for content is worth it.

  4. says

    @Doug: Thanks for sharing your experience. When I did investment research, we subscribed to paid reports as an additional source of information. They definitely varied in quality.

    I link to a lot of New York Times articles via Twitter. The paper is blocking access to the site sometime soon, restricting it to paying customers. I’m a print subscriber, so I’ll continue to have access, but I’m not sure how many other people will jump through those hoops to read the article.

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