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How To Turn Free Into Paid: Lessons From Evernote

image from (Updated) We give away free music (or it's grabbed via p2p), but how can we eventually monetize it?  Artists, labels and music marketers ask themselves that question every day.  I preach to me Berklee students "give your music away free, but…".   My "but" is to try to get something in return – an email address, tweet or Facenook Like.  But according to one hugely successful startup which operates under the Freemium model, Evernote, converting free to paid is all about engagement.

"The easiest way to get a million people to pay for non-scarcity product may be to make 100 million people fall in love with it,” Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote told the Founder Conference. His users, says Libin, are his marketing team.

is a an easy information gathering app with 3.2 million active users monthly, most of them using the free version. Libin says the most annoying question he gets is what percentage of users are paying for the product. It’s not the percentage, but rather the total number who  pay that matters.

The key to getting that number higher is to keep users (aka fans) happy. “It’s more important that you stay than you pay,” Libin said. “Once Evernote gets under your skin, you never want to stop using it.”

If a fancy electronic sticky note can create millions of passionate users with some willing to pay to sustain the business, certainly great musicians can find a couple of thousand true fans.  

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  1. I took a look at this software and remembered something I had hoped would one day be developed for web browsers: an add on of sorts which would enable a user to create notes that would then be saved and displayed every time when said website is opened from this user’s account on that machine.
    I guess that would be the equivalent of an offline version of Evernote. Does it work offline? Can you export your notes archive or individual notes into a file so you can send them as an email attachment to a friend?
    If all these tasks are only possible while connected to Evernote’s servers and not available offline, I’d rather stay away from it for copyright reasons and fear of ideas being stolen from their servers, for example by hackers. And the description of it being an “information gathering app” is equal to the term spyware, isn’t it?
    Does Evernote support writing notes using a mouse pen or a touchscreen? It should.
    Is there a Firefox add-on of Evernote yet?
    It could be a very useful software for everybody, enhancing browser capabilities enormously, but as long as the business of this company is in data gathering, it’s too much of a spyware to really consider.
    However, marketers knowing about the data gathering could manipulate the statistics of the gathered data too easy, don’t you think?

  2. I’m not sure this comparison makes sense at all. Software is something you INTERACT with to accomplish other things. You act on the software, it’s not something static. Once it gets under your skin , the maker of a web application can force you to pay if he wants to ( by restricting the way it functions for example ), he can restrict the access in so many different ways , so if you want to come back to the app everyday , you have to play by his rules. They are not giving you the complete free use of Evernote in the hope they can sell you a coffee mug with their logo on it.
    Music on the other hand , once you get the mp3 , it’s yours forever. There’s nothing you can do to restrict its use . All you can do is hope the person will buy…hum… a tshirt maybe (like people really care about tshirts, unless you’re 12 ) ?

  3. I think the main point here is “to make people fall in love with it.” As an independent artist, if you create something worth loving and sell it directly, you will get financial support. Or at least, we should be nurturing that kind of environment. People think of money differently when love is involved. And considering how music has an emotional edge over other products (e.g. printers), it should be doable. Just gotta open up the market a bit more, create good music, and educate consumers.

  4. If you’ve ever have loved a song so much that you had to have it or loved a band so much that you bought everything they ever produced, I believe you understand the analogy.
    I own almost everything Leonard Cohen ever produced – music, books, a piece of his artwork…
    He is under my skin…

  5. Go to the website, it offers like nearly everything you were questioning lol .. i couldn’t live without the software, it quite literally organizes my life.

  6. How is it possible that you teach at a college and yet have serious trouble with spelling and grammar (and we only see what the spell-check presumably doesn’t let you edit before us). Even further, how is it possible that you teach *music business* at a college *of music* and yet don’t even know how to spell iTunes? (Hint: there’s no apostrophe.)

  7. I see that the author is on the faculty of a well-funded private college (endowment nearly $200 million according to Wiki) and gives 12-week courses on how to make money from the music business, for which participants are charged around $1000. Which is certainly one way of making money from it.

  8. As a Berklee graduate I can safely say how much the professors get paid has absolutely zero bearing on the statements made in this article.
    Make people fall in love with something is just simple marketing 101. More of a life lesson if anything. Good article Bruce.

  9. The equation makes no sense: loving one track by an artist won’t make you a ‘true fan’. Loving the artist for who they are often involves overlooking the quality of the work they produce.
    Loving a track you got for free won’t mean you’ll buy the rest of the artist’s tracks. It’s a case by case thing and you can’t create a model/guide/thesis or module based on something with such variation.
    A better equation can be made with ANY Youtube track. You might look for more by the same artist. You might go to iTunes and buy it. You might give a buck to a beggar on the street because it’s a sunny day.
    Bandcamp created a great facility that was originally free. Now it’s not and I haven’t noticed a ‘pay what and if you want’ button for their service. Ironic considering they have created just that for the artists…
    The reason why the UK has a national health service is because you can’t rely on good will and charity, let alone love.

  10. One hit wonder = short term fan love and small $’s
    Interesting music long term + David Bowie, REM, Radiohead = ongoing fan engagement and long term income

  11. David Bowie, REM, Radiohead – these are all OLD model artists. Even Bieber’s success is questionable. I’m interested in new artists, who make it with no label funding. These are the kids that will break in 3-5 years from now. Kids like one of my clients, Kieran Strange (, who made it into the top 25 of artists on Twitter this year as one of the only independent and unsigned artists.

  12. The key points here are “engagement” and “make people love you” if you can do that you’ll get people to pay money to take their experience with you to new levels…it doesn’t just apply to freemium model tech companies or musicians either.

  13. Persuasive argument, Bruce. Well done.
    Here’s another equation:
    One hit wonder (Laughing Gnome) = another chance at making a record + decisively NO fan engagement + singer/songwriter flop LP + meeting Andy Warhol + cocaine x interesting hair and ambivalent sexuality = Ziggy Stardust.
    Multiplied by years of NO fan engagement = mystery, stardom, big $’s, bad management and finally a heart attack and quiet retirement in Switzerland.
    What’s your point?

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