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What does content, mobile apps and music have in common? Convincing users to pay for it, is becoming increasingly difficult. Why? Because there is so much on offer for free.
Organizations that have a revenue model around content are therefore increasingly confronted with a difficult issue: how can you still compete against (the increasing amount of) free content and still remain relevant in the long term? Anyone who wonders how to convince readers to pay for stories - and let's be honest, that applies to most people in the media and publishing world - should actually start by asking another question: how can you determine what your content is worth to the recipient?
In a world full of free news, articles and blogs, it is increasingly difficult to convince readers to pay for content. There are many media companies that start off with a free content business model, then transition to a paid model, as obviously, solely providing free content is not sustainable for the long term. Either way, media companies have to think of a way to monetize their content. How? It can be ad-supported, subscription-based, or through affiliate linking.
Our following tips on how to monetize content have been developed by gathering information from a wide variety of sources including our global media and publishing customers.
Competing against the big players for advertising dollars
There is a lot of competition that is not coming from other media companies, but from the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, and other companies that have these “global ecosystems”. These big players, in the end, receive money from other people’s stories; they earn advertising income solely from the distribution of content. And media companies have had enough.
Take Facebook Instant Articles (IA) for example. Early last year The Guardian dropped the use of Facebook IA as a clear sign of displeasure with the deals these platforms were giving them. And this move shows that it is not impossible to earn money from products and services that are also available free of charge.
The latest financial report released by the Guardian Media Group showed their digital revenues were up 15%, and announced that more people are paying for the Guardian journalism than ever before. Regular readers of theguardian.com increased by 17.4% between March 2016 and March 2017.
We have grown our digital revenues, and we are achieving strong growth in membership, subscriptions and contributions.
And it’s not only large media companies that have proven that despite of these big players, it's still possible to get consumers to pay for valuable content. The Spotify’s and Blendle's of this world have proven that, even with the existence of YouTube and Twitter, people are still willing to pay for music streaming and stories. So long as the content is high-quality and worth something to the consumer.
Motives to pay for content
But how is it determined whether consumers are willing to pay for content? The answer to that question can only be found by positioning yourself in the consumer’s shoes: if you were them, which content would you be willing to pay for and what content do you expect to be able to obtain for free? Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, mentions eight motives that make paying for content more likely, including immediacy.
Immediacy is the added value of receiving content as soon as it is available. Being the first. An example of this is paying a large sum of money to see a movie on the opening night - when you know if you wait to see it later, it will be cheaper or even free.
And authenticity: an example is paying for software that you can download for free. Why would you do that? Because nobody wants free software that is unreliable and buggy. The same goes for content. People will pay for stories if they are authentic, with guaranteed quality from a trusted source.
And embodiment: which means making the content tangible through webinars, training courses and/or education, for example. Or making it high-res, 3D and available on a huge screen. The audience can see the added value.
As soon as you, as a content creator and distributor, adopt one of these, and your content has added value to your consumers, it is worth considering placing your content behind a paywall. Perhaps your users are allowed access to a limited number of free articles every month and then need to convert into paying subscribers. You can decide which content is to be distributed for free and which is to be monetized. Another way is to monetize editorial articles and rich content pieces while distributing user-generated or third-party sourced content for free. Ensuring the platform or magazine doesn’t lose readership.
Adapting the workflow
When media companies choose to monetize their content, they have to rethink their content strategy and workflow practices. Being able to publish in minutes and not in hours or days is crucial, as is being able to readily reuse the content you already have. Stories need to be created and delivered quickly to ensure the audience feels a sense of urgency and relevance.
Therefore, your workflows and tools have to be flexible and efficient enough to meet the demands of your audience. The tools companies use should promote intelligent content production, such as channel-neutral content creation, where stories or articles can be easily tweaked and published to any print or digital channel. Or shared across any brand, rather than manual sharing using email, google docs or cut and paste, which slows the whole process down.
A smart way of working enables companies involved in content production to remain sustainable in the long-term due to a highly efficient workflow. Many global media companies are now adapting to this new approach.
Next to being quick on your feet, one of the most important tasks of media companies is not only to inform, but also to connect with people. Building communities for and around a product or service ensures loyal customers and more reliable revenue streams.
One way media companies can create communities is on their own platform and then be actively involved in topics that engage their audience - this works especially well with niche areas of interest. Having this level of audience engagement provides a media brand with a good opportunity to upsell content and stories, as authenticity, quality and trust is established in the consumers’ mind.
Creating a community on a paid platform (membership website) is also an option. As the community shares the same interest, and provides expertise, the platform itself becomes highly-valuable. Alternatively there is the option to provide the platform for free and offer the audience to pay to go ‘ad free’.
Soundcloud is a good example of setting up a community on their own platform. This music streaming service / community is free of charge, but also offers a paid subscription, with more possibilities. With its Go and Go+ options, the company not only provides access to millions of songs, but also to the associated community with whom users can interact. If you regularly reward these users for their loyalty by means of unique content, information or gifts, you give them enough reason to stay part of this - in this case - music community.
In short, the business of content is still profitable, even when you are faced with competition from big-players (and the Googles and Facebooks of this world). The key is to distinguish yourself in terms of unique quality content, with added value. Quality content will always prevail. Whether your added value is based on immediacy, authenticity or embodiment - you will be able to sustain a long-term business model.
However, it is up to you to choose the model that best suits you and your audience. With the possibilities of putting up a paywall, using in-app advertisements or through a paid community site. In conjunction with this, it is imperative to have content developed and delivered as efficiently and seamlessly as possible, to make sure you deliver what you promise time and time again. Only then will your audience become your most loyal fans.