The Great Digital Content Pricing Experiment
With the prevalence of free online content, many readers have become reluctant customers, leaving publishers puzzling over how to monetize their greatest asset. Yet the same technologies (the web, tablet and mobile apps) that have dissolved previous revenue models are opening up new possibilities for publishers to experiment with monetization strategies from soft paywalls to freemium apps. We spoke with a number of such forward-thinking industry players to learn what strategies have worked and what they see as the future of paid digital content.
THE PAYWALL EXPERIMENT
We start by discussing various approaches to online paywalls, seeking insight from a variety of perspectives, including a magazine editor, a paywall developer, a digital magazine founder and a video advertising service provider. Here’s what they’re trying out.
Tyler Cabot, Esquire
As the articles editor of Esquire, Tyler Cabot has led a number of the paid content initiatives at the magazine. His team’s latest effort is “The Prophet,” a long-form article that is available to readers for $1.99.
What led to the creation of “The Prophet” paywall experiment?
I came across TinyPass, who did the paywalls for the “How to Be a Man” stories that Esquire and [publishing nonprofit] Narrative 4 collaborated on. Because I was enjoying what was happening at Narrative 4, I said to [editor-in-chief] David Granger that this would be a pretty interesting way to see if we can put up a paywall at Esquire.
It was a total experiment. We knew that “The Prophet” made sense to sell that way-it took a lot of reporting and money and was a great story-but we had never done anything like this, so we had to ask: how would the paywall function? Would readers question the paywall? How would the story look?
The biggest focus initially was the design. I think you will notice that the story online is a lot cleaner. There are ads at the top but beyond that there are no ads in the story. The idea being, that if you pay for a story on Esquire, it needs to be easy to read, and it had to be that way on iPad, iPhone or online.