Paid content, or free content? More than 30 years since the Columbus Dispatch went online the same question is still being asked in publishers across the globe.
This year the tide seemed to have turned against free content with paid content schemes, mostly metered and premium, emerging as the best bet for beleaguered publishers.
At which point just as you might think the matter was settled Rupert Murdoch – one of the most influential of all paid content proponents – blinked and The Sun in UK seemingly set on his flagship tabloid’s paid-for plan.
Too often we’re seeing the wrong answers probably because that is the wrong one question to start with. To make any sense of the challenge of charging or not charging we first have to take a step back and look at five key points.
1) What’s the quality of your audience (and how do you measure that)?
Big numbers of unique visitors might sound good for advertisers but UV numbers alone are not a good way of deciding whether to charge for content because the majority of visitors are probably fleeting and irregular.
When it comes to monetizing then “occasional” (2-3 visits a month) and “fly-by” visitors (once a month) are very likely not relevant. Instead, we need to focus on our “regulars” (one to two visits per week) and “fans” (more than two visits a week).
Traffic-wise, this minority of visitors really provides the most traffic to most websites, and that’s what we have to take into account when trying to put a financial value on our customers.
2) Is your content paid-for friendly?
If you want to charge for content you need a steady and substantial supply of content that is not freely and easily available elsewhere. People simply won’t pay for something they can get for free two clicks away.
For example, people are more likely to pay for niche content, databases and archives than they are for articles about current affairs or features. Likewise, people will pay for something that perceive to have added value.
What can this added value be? Better quality such as additional scope, more tailored, greater depth, quantity, or something that makes it more convenient (easier to access, for example).
3) Which platform are people going to pay for?
Despite the massive growth in tablets and smartphones a lot of publishers still think website when they think about payments.
But that’s ignoring where the growth is coming from and the fact that content delivery to mobile devices has far more potential to be both premium and personalised.
Increasingly the breaking news comes as alerts to mobile devices, tablet content is where magazine content is consumed, and the newspaper website is effectively an archive. Yet most paid content strategies mean we’re spending time and energy trying to get people to pay for the archive while ignoring the fresh news.
A good paid-for digital content strategy addresses delivery and a flexible and modular pricing to all these platforms.
4) Which Paid-for model?
Most publishers currently use one of two basic paid-for models.
- The first is the subscription model: ever popular and available in four flavours.
- Site subscription (where a user must pay to access the website at all)
- Metered access (where a limited amount of material is free, after which point a subscriber must pay)
- Premium Access (separate content bundle)
- Apps download (these also involve separate content bundles).
The second is pay-per-use or pay-per-article. This one also brings up the question of how to pay. Invoice? Credit/Debit card? PayPal? Click-and-buy?
Ultimately, the form of payment needs to be very easy and flexible (so the customer has a choice) and secured. Plus the transaction needs to be as instant and painless as possible and backed up by customer service to reassure customers if anything goes awry.
5) What do you charge?
The American Press Institute recently surveyed millennials between 18 and 34 years of age. They found that 87 per cent personally pay for some kind of subscription including new or entertainment.
So, the good news is that people are prepared to pay for news and do so. The bad news is that they aren’t prepared to pay much. A study in the UK of young adults by the Internet Advertising Bureau looked at what they were prepared to pay for news websites. The answer was just 92p (€1.30) per month.
Mather Economics, an economics consultancy that works with hundreds of newspaper publishers on revenue and analytics, observes that the most common acquisition offer for digital subscriptions is $0.99 for the first four weeks. Following the end of the promotional period, monthly prices typically fall between $8 and $15 per month.
Not enough to support your publication structure? Then it’s time to think outside the box consider how to create new media and non-media products that people will pay for better money.
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