Five ways paid content can work
But that’s not to say people simply won’t pay for any online content – I just think it requires a new type of thinking and a different business model to the one being bandied about by commentators (what Murdoch and other publishers actually plan to roll out remains largely a mystery).
So here’s a few ideas I think newspaper publishers need to keep in mind when they hunker down to thrash out the details of the paid content model.
Don’t charge for what’s free somewhere else
OK - forget charging for breaking news or news headlines. The audience simply won’t value it enough to pay when they can find another site that will give it away for free. Sure micropayments work well for iTunes but you get to keep a song forever. News is a fleeting, constantly evolving commodity that waxes and wanes in value from one day to the next. Concentrate on hitting the right audiences and content that people can’t get somewhere else.
Conquer your niche audiences
Newspaper publishers love to tout the success of the Wall Street Journal and The Economist as examples that the paid content model can work. But these properties serve niche markets (ie people who make money from this information) or serve up unique content to a highly-engaged and cashed-up audience. Then there’s the elephant in the room – the huge number of corporate subscriptions or personal subscriptions that end up on corporate credit cards – these don’t cost the end user a cent. That model cannot be simply applied across the board to all mastheads to a general audience. But there are highly engaged niche audiences who will value content if its relevant to them. In an earlier blog entry I looked at an early proposal for a New York Times subscription model and applied it to a niche – food (no surprise I wrote this shortly after MasterChef finished to record ratings). If you look at Fairfax – an obvious working subscription model could be some kind of ‘foodie’ subscription leveraging all the recipes, restaurant & bar reviews and tied in with the Good Food Guides in Sydney and Melbourne. That model could work across Murdoch and Fairfax properties by building new brands serving niche audiences – instead of trawling through the huge archives of a raft of newspaper sites to dig up info of your interest. It would work for sport, politics, business & finance (AFR access debarcle notwithstanding) and several lifestyle areas. Publishers need to come up with new content or new ways of packaging up content – not just expect people to suddenly start paying for something they’ve had for free for the past decade.
Build loyalty through services as well as content
The text story is dead … long live the text story! OK I’m being facetious, but no longer can media organisations rest on their laurels of dishing up a 1500-word text story or a nightly news video as the be-all and end-all of their output. It’s time to build your online presence through various platforms, and across all the mediums offered in the online world. The Guardian’s podcast network has built huge and loyal audiences through its webby-award winning podcast network, which remains oddly ad-free, despite being a sleeping revenue giant. Add video to the mix, throw in a few PC or TV widgets, iPhone apps and other use-on-the-go services, and suddenly your content is looking like a valuable – and revenue raising – product. It’s about thinking outside the square and for God’s sake, not thinking of news/content delivery in old media terms. Do that and you’ll be just fine…
Let your audience dictate the news
Personalisation and interaction with your audiences are becoming an essential part of responsible and relevant publishing – and can play a major role in raising your profile and credibility via in this social-media connected world. Tap into that rich vein of conversation and allow your audience to have a hand in what they want to view online. Wrap this personalisation up as part of your services/content strategy – convince the conversation-starters and online influencers (yes, including those pesky bloggers) and it will do the work of an entire marketing department… with credibility to boot. Then charge for it!
Turn your reporters into entrepreneurs
Journalists can no longer exist solely as writers , TV reporters or photographers. The days of the one-trick pony are over… and look over your shoulder there, buddy, every bright young thing under the age of 25 knows it. Journalists need to embrace this new media world as the new playing field and, put simply, do more. You have to be taking photos, writing blogs, working with your online people to build multimedia applications, and unfortunately, at times when you are your busiest. And you shouldn’t be paid extra for it either. On the flipside there are enormous benefits from doing this. You are now your own brand, one that can exist out from under the umbrella of your media organisation. A brand that can grow from organisation to organisation. One that can earn you money via Google Ad sense, get you invites to speak at conferences, make you worth more to your employer. In the US several bloggers are making up to $200,000 in revenue a year. You’re more likely to recoup costs and maybe get some pocket money – but at least you’ll feel it’s worth the effort.
Your bosses will be happy – they can use this great personal content to help sell their content (if it’s good enough). They can help you raise your profile by exposing you to your readers, your viewers. They may even pay you more or give you a promotion.
It’s a win win – got onto it. And tell your online editor I said hi….
Of course now that I’ve listed all these ideas I can’t for a moment guarantee it will work. The paid content debate will continue to rage until someone – apparently Rupert Murdoch – throws down the gauntlet and put his money (a lot of money) where his mouth is. It will either be a spectacular financial train-wreck, or it will surprise the hell out of everyone and actually work. Somehow I don’t think there will be a middle ground.
Let the games begin….