Free Beer!

I had the pleasure of going to the first Great North Carolina Beer Festival in Clemmons, NC this past weekend. Overall it was awesome. It was hot and there were literally around nineteen-thousand people when all was said and done. I had beer from the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Thomas Creek, and Foothills. There were also big names there that you’d recognize and they all had out what passed for (and in some cases what I’d consider) craft beers.

A craft beer, in my opinion, is a product that the manufacturer truly put some time, energy, and passion into developing. Maybe they take a BIG chance (as one home brewer did with a smoked Weizenbock that was awesome) or maybe they were just wanted to do something a little different (as Newcastle did with their Summer Ale). Regardless, in most cases they tried to put their best foot forward and they were doing it for free.

“So Scott, is this the beer blog now?”

Well maybe from time to time, but this post is about passion. A few of these people had it in spades. I think that the homebrewers that were their had it the most. There was nothing for them to sell. They literally couldn’t legally sell their products even if they wanted to. All they can do is give it away for free. Why? Because they want to share something they made and believed in. So these guys were standing in the only shade around, pouring their beer for the thirsty public (who may or may not give a darn about what they were drinking), and having a grand time.

The next step up were the microbreweries. In quite a few cases the faces you saw at those tents were owners. In some cases they were employees, but there was more of a connection there. They wanted you to know about their beer, their brewery, and in what time they had available would tell you all about it. Yeah they wanted to sell stuff. A few local breweries were selling full pints or glasses and other nick-knacks. They wanted to spread the word and incidentally sell some beer.

There was less passion from the Big Beer tents. The people pulling taps their were likely employees hired just for the day. They had no connection to the process of making the beer or selling the beer. They were just pretty faces. No need to spread the word so much since most of us consumers already know about Guinness or Leinenkugel or Bud. So I guess they were just there as sponsors and in a few cases to get out the word about a particular new product. It was one hundred percent a business arrangement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So here we are, three “tiers” if you will and all giving away all the free samples you were willing to queue up for. Sure it cost you $25, but my feeling is that that went to the music and other expenses (designated drivers still had to pay $20).

This whole day struck a chord in me. There’s a great deal of passion in the podiosphere for giving away stuff for free. Those that choose to do it are doing it for the same reasons that the homebrewers and microbrewers are doing it for. In the one case maybe they can’t sell it (or haven’t tried) and are just honing their craft until they can take the next step. In other cases maybe they have started selling, but they still feel the need to build some name recognition. Regardless, there’s still that passion in creating and putting out their wares for people to sample.

The part that’s missing from this analogy are the big boys. While there are some “big names” out there giving away free samples, it doesn’t sound like that’s catching on with the bulk of big story business. There’s a fair amount of fear (perhaps founded, perhaps not) of things like piracy or watering down the brand. And big publishers put a lot of money into developing and selling what they have and want to recoup those costs. It’s all about the business for them.

So, is there a lesson to be learned in this? I think if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, if there’s a way for you to give some of it away without cutting your own throat, do it. I understand the notion that if you’re writing short stories, you don’t want to give them all away if your short term goal is to sell those particular stories. So maybe you write a story or two just to give away? Share your passion with people and once you’ve hit the “big leagues”, where it most cases it’s still hard scrabble when it comes to making a living from wordsmithing, maybe drop a freebie from time to time. Remember that you got into this writing business not do much to make a million dollars (cause that just ain’t gonna happen for most of us) but to tell that story that made your brain itch. Pour a pint every now and again for your fans and I think you’ll find it will pay off in the long run.

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