There are several different topics of interest in the posts. The first and most prominent is a commonly shared pet peeve about seeing webinars promoted for their educational and informational content, only for attendees to find out that the majority of the session time is spent promoting and pitching the sponsoring vendor’s products or services. Don’t do this. Let me repeat: DON’T DO THIS! It only serves to annoy people and makes them less trustful of communications from your company in the future. If you want to tell people about your products and services, let them know up front. You’ll get an audience ready for and receptive to your message. Self-selection is a wonderful thing.
The second point is something I have raised in the past. People are becoming more and more conditioned to expect Internet-delivered information to be available for free. (Blame Wikipedia!) Many vendors are hosting real, valuable educational webinars for free. It offers them a way to gain prominence in their space, collect mailing list names (I refuse to call them “leads”), show thought leadership, and start an initial dialog with a target audience.
Does this mean that it’s impossible to charge for webinars? Certainly not. It just means you should realize you face extra challenges. You have to work to overcome pre-existing prejudices and expectations. People have been stung with thinly disguised sales pitches. They are wary of shelling out money only to find that they are paying to be marketed to. People are used to free webinars and other information resources on the web. You need to clearly articulate what makes your program worth an attendance fee.
The third issue Scott and Sue raise is whether webinars cannibalize fee-based association meetings, conferences, or courses. Obviously there is some overlap and cross-influence, but I don’t believe it’s a major issue. There is a place for serious content provided by experts, specifically targeted at an affiliate group with niche interests. Value justifies cost… If the value of your exclusive content surpasses the cost to the attendees, they will pay for it. But if you are charging them to get content they could just as easily get from other free sources, watch out. You don’t have a lock on your members and they have options for information accessibility that were unheard of just a few years ago. You are competing on a bigger playing field and you’ll need to step up your game to bring in the revenue.