Publishers Might Do Well to Consider the 'Netflix Marketing' Model
The debate continues to rage about what publishers should—or even can—do to control and monetize all their valuable content. Just today we have featured in Publishing Business Today Genesis Media's Mark Yackanich calling for publishers to "take a stand" on the value of what they offer by erecting paywalls where feasible and otherwise investing in innovative ad platforms. Meanwhile, D. Eadward Tree sees in the "Da Vinci Code" giveaway (used as a means of promoting Dan Brown's new book) an untapped marketing model for print magazines.
Everyone agrees that some combination of free content, paywalls and innovative advertising is needed to drive the industry forward. Much attention is paid to the paywall and ad platform questions, because that's where so much of the experimentation has taken place—from digital subscriptions to native advertising and environments such as the New York Times' Ricochet, which create valuable online opportunities for brand engagement.
Oddly, there's much less experimentation occurring around free content itself. As far as most publishers are concerned, free is just free—a necessary evil required to compete with everything else on the Web. Free is not a realm of opportunity, except as it relates to ad impressions. Free must be minimized, split up into many annoying parts (slideshows, anyone?) and cluttered with in-text ads (e.g. what Vibrant Media does) or SEO keywords.
In the digital world, however, we may need to reconsider the ways free can be useful—not as a vehicle, but in and of itself. Thinking of the "Da Vinci Code"/"Inferno" promotion, we ought to look at what some content creators have achieved with what I'll call the Netflix marketing model. In a recent New York Times article about the AMC cable network, media analyst Alexia Quadrani noted that the network's success with "The Walking Dead" can be partly attributed to its making the show available on Netflix early on, allowing all those who missed the first season to catch up once they heard the buzz on the program. As a result, audience "grew slowly and steadily over three seasons"—and the show is now a monster hit.
Magazine publishers have always offered free trials, of course, but don't aggressively promote them. And sometimes, they offer the wrong stuff, or in an annoying, ad-soaked format (because you, the reader, must suffer for free!!). Would Conde Nast dare offer free e-book downloads of some of its best New Yorker fiction—as a purely pleasurable reading experience, with no ads, just like what we get when we binge on Netflix—for a couple of months? Might this get some people hooked on the magazine, and sell some subscriptions?