Cover Story: Making Content Pay
Content behind paywall: ESPN Insider premium content, plus features and commentary from ESPN The Magazine
Rate structure: Subscription plan ($6.95 for one-month subscription; $3.33/month for yearly subscription; $2.50/month for two-year subscription)
ESPN Insider was originally set up back in the '90s to be bundled with subscriptions to ESPN's print magazine, a way to strengthen subscription offers and "help what was then a fledgling website called ESPN.com," says Gary Hoenig, vice president and general manager of ESPN Publishing. "I would venture to say," he adds wryly, "that ESPN.com at 28 million page views per month does not need a lot of help these days."
The overall success of ESPN's online products has given the Disney-owned network the luxury to experiment with, and occasionally neglect, its paid content site over the years. Hoenig took over control of ESPN Insider about a year ago (it had previously been run out of the company's digital team; Insider and ESPN The Magazine online (ESPNTheMag.com) were merged in June 2009) and has since seen subscriptions grow by 33 percent, exceeding the previous record number of subscribers.
"The smartest thing to say is we no longer consider the question of whether people will pay for content a valid question," Hoenig says. "We think the question is where will they pay, and how will we make it easy for them." He stresses that the most important aspect of any paid content site involves making the purchasing decision one "nobody regrets when they get to the other side of the wall"—a simple, rewarding process like the one Apple established with iTunes.
"All you need to do is go to an online store like Zappos or Apple, and you will see how people who are used to a retail relationship made that as easy as possible—and you will find the secret to paid content," he says.