5 Ways Publishers Can Spur Readers to Pay for Online Content
Journalism’s had a rough season. The New York Times’ print business is down 19%; Gannett print’s down 15%; Postmedia’s down 21%; and McClatchy’s down 17%, according to recent earnings reports. Then there are the layoffs at the Wall Street Journal and the bloodletting at Reuters.
A model that rests entirely on subscriptions is no safer than one that relies on advertising, even if both are critical pathways to publishing health and sustainability. As AdBlock eats into ad revenue and content becomes more mobile -- with Google now prioritizing it in its algorithm -- publishers must get creative about unlocking revenue streams.
Luckily, there are many ways to approach this transition. Below are some smart diversification options that take the pressure off basic subscriptions, advertising, and journalists suffering from clickbait-fatigue.
1. Creatively tease content. FT.com was among the first publishers to charge B2C with a metered paywall and apps, but it’s also smart about leveraging the zeitgeist. During Brexit, a major financial event, it opened its paywall, yielding a 600% rise in digital subscriptions. (The New York Times also did this recently with the American election.)
2. Meter selectively. Users understand metering; some form works for most. The New York Times offers 10 free articles a month. But with the right tools, you can meter differently based on platform, article type and even time of day. The Times in the UK unlocks all content older than seven days, putting the priority on fresh news, but new customers can read two articles of their choice without paying. Some papers meter more generously on low-traffic days, or at moments when the news cycle is especially heated.
A meter is a beautiful thing. Even if readers visit your site three times monthly without purchasing a subscription, you don’t lose clicks and have continuous advertiser inventory. It’s a win-win situation.
3. Get into apps. 65% of digital media is consumed via mobile. The Economist’s Espresso app offers a short curation of articles daily, none over 120 words (what it dubs “a shot of journalism”). This paid app has been downloaded over 1 million times.
Quartz is another smart player. Its sponsored app serves news in text-message form, letting people decide what stories they want to learn more about (or skip), and illustrating short synopses with GIFs, charts, and more. The result is a conversational news experience that drives traffic back to its site.
4. Provide features à la carte. Readers know that news is so much more than daily stories; it’s also filled with snackable features that translate well to digital, which people will happily pay for separately. The New York Times’ crossword Stand Alone grossed over $2 million in Q1 revenue this year!
5. Enable micropayments. This builds on the à la carte notion. Younger consumers have more choices and distractions, making them less likely to buy bulk subscriptions from one or two players. Make it easy for them to include you into their eclectic mix. The Winnipeg Free Press offers an all-access digital subscription ($16.99) or the option to pay $0.27 per article. The trick to micropayments is a simple payment platform that doesn’t waste time and makes people feel like they’re in control -- notably, if a reader decides they don’t like the article they’ve chosen, they can refund themselves with Winnipeg’s model.
For publishers, there are as many content strategies as identities. Test models to discover what works best for the people you’re trying to attract. The good news is news isn’t dead. But we should take advantage of this volatile time in our story to transform who we are and explore what we could be.
Scott is a strategic and media technology professional with over ten years of U.S. & U.K. client service and leadership experience. As Senior Vice President of North America for MPP Global, Scott is responsible for leading a cross vertical organization by assisting media and entertainment companies with identity management, CRM, and eCommerce solutions. Over the past three years, Scott has worked at the executive level for MPP Global's U.S. headquarters in New York and is influential in developing long-term relationships with strategic partners.