It’s time to put readers at the center of your paid content model
SERVING A PEOPLE-POWERED PLANET
I think most people would agree that trying to stop the print revenue hemorrhaging with digital advertising is like slapping a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. In 2015, that wound grew into a cancer that some fear is poised to tear apart the very fabric of the world wide web. The growing epidemic of ad blocking, malvertising and fraud is much more than a wakeup call for publishers; it’s a ticking time bomb.
Fueled by advertisers and publishers who put a mad rush for elusive profits before people, the industry is now paying the price for treating the web like a dumping ground for their digital debris. So many media executives still do not seem to understand that people now own the web, not brands, and those people have the power to dictate what they want and don’t want in terms of media.
I have to give credit to publishers who are experimenting with a number of different paid content models to try and find the magic bullet. Unfortunately, they’re not seeing the returns they hoped for.
Metered and hard paywalls
Publisher paywalls have largely plateaued. Even the poster child of paywalls, The New York Times with one million+ digital subscribers, has seen its growth flatten in recent years.
The Times’ goal is to reach 2 million digital subscribers by 2020. At its current 20% growth rate they will make that. But I can’t help but think that the willingness-to-spend for digital content downward trends will continue, making paywalls just a short term good news story even for the iconic publisher.
“iTunes for news”
Blendle received a lot of fanfare in 2015 and showed some promise in select European countries, proclaiming they’d reached ~500K users. But ask most industry pundits and you’ll probably hear that they love the micropayments company, although they don’t expect it to succeed in North America due to the wealth of free content and competition on this side of the Atlantic.
Newsstands (Google Play, Amazon, Zinio)
Apple shut down its newsstand; Google isn’t far behind; Zinio is trying to reinvent itself. No one has ever made this model work. Interestingly publishers love distributing their content through newsstands because they look and act like the physical kiosks of old. They just can’t give up on the print paradigms of the past – to their detriment.
Freemium | premium
Often credited to Hulu, this freemium (with ads)/premium (without ads) model has been adopted by a few publishers (e.g. Bild) who are trying to recover their losses from the ad blocking pandemic. Unfortunately, this solution creates competition between ad revenue and subscription revenue where the only answer is compromise (it’s one or the other, not both) – not a recipe for success in the long term.
“Netflix for news”
Having been part of pioneering this popular all-access content model in 2003 (before Netflix, Readly, Magzter or the likes of Next Issue/Texture even existed), I can tell you that as much as readers love the model, the monthly subscription costs demanded by publishers are far too high for the digital masses. Certainly there are readers – let’s call them news
junkies – who are willing to pay to access to the whole universe of content, but they are a niche market with little growth potential. I like to compare them to the music aficionados who still purchase vinyl records – a highly discerning crowd, but not a market loaded with money.
Clearly it’s time to disrupt today’s paid content models. Give readers what they want and publishers will discover the secret to monetizing the masses.
SOMEONE HAS TO PAY
I am a strong believer in journalistic excellence and an advocate for its compensation. But I also believe readers shouldn’t necessarily be the ones doing the paying. Sound crazy? It’s not so far fetched when you think about it.
Businesses have been sponsoring access to printed magazines and newspapers for many decades in hotels, cafes, clinics, offices, lounges and on airplanes. Why should it be any different in digital? It shouldn’t. In fact, if anything, the B2B relationship between businesses and publishers should scale exponentially, providing significant value to their users and revenue for themselves.
INTRODUCING THE “SPONSORED ACCESS” MODEL
Every consumer-centric business on the planet is feeling the effects of disruption, whether that be technology- or business-based. Music, movies, TV, hotels, libraries, restaurants and travel are all feeling the heat from the likes of Spotify, Netflix, Expedia, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, et al.
Traditional businesses know they can’t compete on cost, so they are desperately looking for ways to differentiate themselves and create loyal relationships with customers, patrons, employees and visitors through valueadded services. A number of hotel chains are already creating new millennial-friendly brands (e.g. Radisson Red, Tru by Hilton) to provide them with the Gen-Y experience they desire.
A unique service gaining serious momentum across all industries worldwide is sponsored access to premium content because it provides unique value to their highly diverse target markets, and it makes dollars and sense to them.
Today, thousands of customer-first businesses such as Qantas Airways, AccorHotels, Uber, Silversea Cruises and McDonald’s, to name just a few, are sponsoring unlimited access to PressReader’s 5,000+ magazines and newspapers, making it an integral part of their customer rela- tionship strategy. The business model is simple. It costs nothing for publishers to join and when someone (i.e. a sponsor such as a hotel or airline) pays PressReader for content read by their hotel guests or airline passengers, PressReader pays the publisher.
It’s a win-win-win situation all around:
Readers get the desired frictionless access to quality, trusted content and an engaging, educational or entertaining experience for free; Businesses are able to offer unique value to their customers in an eco-friendly way, saving money while growing brand equity and loyalty across all demographics; Publishers can instantly serve a massive audience of hundreds of millions of people they couldn’t possibly reach on their own, growing reach, audited circulation and revenues.
Sponsored access at a global scale is a huge opportunity, but creating partnerships with thousands of businesses and aligning their needs with the world’s media is a mammoth undertaking with major challenges:
Technology challenges It’s pretty easy to build an aggregated site of magazines; they are dozens of companies doing that today with more popping up every month because issues are published intermittently, allowing time for manually processing of feeds.
But to process thousands of daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines 24/7/365 requires sophisticated, automated content processing solutions you can’t buy off the shelf like Adobe DPS. The technology takes years to develop and financial investments to continually enhance and maintain it – it’s a system that is extremely difficult to replicate.
For sponsored access to succeed at a global scale, thousands of partnerships need to be negotiated between businesses and publishers. Not only do the relationships need to be fostered, there must be seamless integration between the publishers’ content and the business’ back office systems, apps and customer experience strategies and tactics. They must align.
Embarking on this is not for the faint of heart; take my word for it – been there, got the airline points to prove it. And it would take years for publishers to build enough relationships to start to reap any rewards on their investment – time publishers and businesses just don’t have in world where the only constant today is disruption.