How to Create Online Content Readers Will Pay For
Pity the poor consumer publishers getting millions of website visitors each month. The flipside of those universal topics generating huge traffic is content which can never be sold. Will anyone pay even a buck to read about Hillary Clinton's latest book signing or another article on Orange is the New Black?
Last month's SIPA conference -- the Specialized Information Publishers Association -- was a celebration of high-value content. Gathered in Washington were more than 100 publishing professionals who apparently never got the memo that nobody will pay for content.
When your content is essential for someone's business it has intrinsic value. The fact that most B2B publishing is done for relatively narrow interest groups also ensures limited competition.
The session which got the most buzz was presented by Cindy Carter, CEO of FDA News. She described how they are able to take about 25% of their articles and sell them in so many different ways and cited one original piece that generated $100,000.
The basics are old-school: cultivating sources, combing through hundreds of boring pages, and staying on top of legal rulings. It takes seasoned editors who have a nose for what their market's hot topics are, strategize how to spin them via social media, and carefully watch to see what generates strong readerships. Then they repurpose, repurpose, repurpose. A sophisticated CMS makes the work easier. The sample article Cindy described was first put on the website for paying subscribers. Among the ways it was further monetized include aggregating into their Drug Industry Daily; licensing to buyers including Lexis-Nexus and Thomson Reuters; inclusion in Drug Daily Bulletin; turning it into a webinar; including it with others on a CD set; and selling a version as part of a training package.
Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI) has had reporters across the U.S. covering the industry long before natural gas became the new American growth engine. They offer multiple subscription products with information nobody else has and readers are glad to pay for. Dexter Steis, the executive publisher, described how they harnessed the growth potential by outsourcing their technology last year. They have reduced the hassle and expense, improved their website and can concentrate on the core business. Sales, which had grown 5% each of the past five years, shot up 22% in four months and continue to grow.
On their new site, NGI is offering some content free to non-subscribers for the first time. This greatly increased search referrals and traffic. Included in the ungated content are overviews of each U.S. shale basin. Editors recently assembled this into an authoritative ebook about the 29 shale basins which they offer for $129 each. They are now earning about $4,000 per month from otherwise free content. Plus, each buyer becomes a qualified lead for their other products.
Diane Schwartz, senior VP and group publisher of the media properties at Access Intelligence, presented a slew of ideas on monetizing content. Like NGI's ebook, it was a reminder that if you hit enough singles and doubles the score can really add up. There were two ideas I found particularly interesting. Schwartz and team produce webinars, SOP among SIPA members, and in some cases they resell the webinars by white-labeling them for companies who want to provide this content to their customers. And with the philosophy there is no reason to leave money on the table, after conferences they produce Executive Summaries -- notes on take-aways from track sessions for $100-$200 each.
Like other presenters, Diane's content products could fill an article of their own. It is worth noting some key suggestions: audit your content quarterly; conduct a content review before every event and program; and assign a champion for editorial and marketing. "Leverage your CMS," said Schwartz, "A good one helps you make money. A bad one sucks up a lot of time."
The diversity of business information products among SIPA members is always inspiring. Let the rest of the media incessantly debate whether paywalls will ever pay off -- what a dreadful way to describe sales of valuable content. Is the price on a book a paywall? I never hear anyone describe their monthly Netflix fee as a paywall.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.