Web Sitings: Scientific American Stops Giving It Away
"We've become a welfare information society," said Samir Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine." "Anybody who knows anything about welfare knows that once you put somebody on welfare, it becomes so hard to get them off welfare. For the last 10 years, we've done a lot in terms of giving away free content."
Husni was moderating the Publishing Business Conference & Expo's panel discussion on "Finding the Sweet Spot Between Free and Paid Content Models," which featured executives from Scientific American, The Deal LLC and The Week, discussing how their publications had successfully implemented pay models for content they'd previously given away free online.
For Scientific American, this wasn't as hard as it sounds. Bruce Brandfon, vice president and publisher, explained how the magazine was able to simply charge for some content while growing subscriptions.
Back To Profitability
"We lost control of the distribution. We [voluntarily] gave it up to people who took it away from us! That's the thing that's so frightening," said Brandfon.
Scientific American, as Brandfon put it, has "existed for 165 years because we've always charged for content with the publication." But for several years, the publisher had not been charging for its content online.
Like many publishers a few years ago, Scientific American saw the opportunity to grow Web traffic exponentially by posting its content online for free. It began not just giving away its magazine content, but posting it before the issue went on sale. "Which was a 'brilliant' strategy," said a sarcastic Brandfon. "We were not only losing subscribers and single-copy buyers at the newsstand, but we were training people that they were going to find this information for free."
Traffic grew as promised, but according to Brandfon, Scientific American was "unable to monetize [that traffic] via the advertising channel where we're getting essentially pennies on the dollar for advertising as compared to the magazine." Feeling betrayed by the free-content Web and its evangelists, the publisher took its lumps and changed directions.