Cover Story: Making Content Pay
"We were seduced into this notion that we could grow the audience, and we did," says Bruce Brandfon, vice president and publisher. "In order to grow the audience, we did a lot of smart things from a marketing perspective by putting a lot on the website that was designed to generate audience traffic."
Without the revenue, however, maintaining this level of quality would become a difficult proposition, so it was decided to once again charge for feature content that also runs in the magazine. The publisher seems to have learned a thing or two from its success in driving traffic to its website, however: A fair amount of rich content will continue to be available for free, as is the first viewing of a story when a reader arrives via a search engine or aggregation site. "If you come again from that IP address, you don't get the whole story, you get a synopsis of the story and then are prompted to subscribe, to either buy that individual issue or subscribe to the digital version of the magazine," says Brandfon.
An initial drop in page views following the changeover six months ago was quickly overcome; page views are back to pre-paywall levels, Brandfon reports, and the number of unique visitors has remained at "a very high level," mostly coming from search referrals.
An unexpected bonus: In addition to immediate gains in digital-subscription revenue, ad revenue for the entire site also increased, a consequence most likely of the improving economy and the relatively well-educated, affluent character of Scientific American's audience, "different from the casually interested page flipper or Web surfer," notes Brandfon. "You're coming to Scientific American for a specific purpose," he says. "… We have been able to demonstrate to advertisers that if you are looking for an audience that is deeply engaged in a very thoughtful examination of why science, research, technology and innovation matters to them … then we are the website that brings those sort of people in."