A recent Adweek article noted that print magazine newsstand sales are still falling, with major titles like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Elle and The Oprah Magazine experiencing double-digit drops. The majority of readers still get content through print channels, but as tablets catch on, more and more consumers are turning to digital sources.
As print-era publishing business models continue to decline, publishers are looking for new ways to monetize their content online. There are many strategies open to them, including placing premium content behind pay-walls or offering free content and using new approaches to generate profits.
Here are five things publishers should consider when deciding between paid and free content:
1. Face it -- People are Unlikely to Pay for Access to Online Content
It’s very difficult to entice readers to pay for content online. Why should they when millions of publishers are offering top-quality content free of charge? Virtually every top-tier publishing company that has attempted to wall off all their content behind a subscription charge has seen a precipitous decline in online market share.
With so much content available free of charge on the web, it might be time to admit that it’s just not realistic to expect readers to pay for content online.
2. Free Online Content Can Build Paid Content Readership
Free online content can be a great way to promote paid online and offline products. Although a growing number read content online exclusively, there are still many who prefer to consume content in different formats in different situations, such as commuters who use a mobile device to keep up-to-date and then purchase a print or online version of a publication for home reading.
Publishers can use free online content to entice readers to purchase offline publications or channel readers to a paid portion of an online property. It all starts with free content.
3. Free Online Content Extends Print Advertiser Value
Publishers who run ads in their print publications and then publish a free online version can deliver additional readers to their advertisers. For example, a local magazine that publishes a digital version of an offline print edition extends its reach beyond the local community, allowing advertisers to get in front of a global audience. This expands the value the publisher offers, which in turn justifies an increase in the rates charged, building new revenue streams.
4. Free Online Content Delivers Consumer Insight
When publishers offer online content at no charge, they lose whatever fee they might have charged readers for access -- assuming they could entice them behind a pay-wall without free content. But they also gain something incredibly valuable: real-time metrics and insight into consumer behavior. When online readers click through ads or share content via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, publishers gain information about their readers and advertising effectiveness. This helps them sharpen their message and deliver more value to advertisers.
5. Free Online Content Allows Publishers and Advertisers to Work Together in a New Way
Online publishing offers opportunities to place ads in context that print publications can’t match. For example, a free article about a hot new band would be the perfect place for an ad featuring an offer for tickets to an upcoming concert. Publishers can now sell access to readers with very specific interests. That’s an extremely valuable asset, and online tracking tools give publishers new metrics about specific areas of interest that go far beyond the general focus of the publication. Those who offer free content can leverage this asset to sell more ad space.
Rather than trying to adapt outmoded print-era business models to the digital age, publishers should look at the changing publishing landscape as a new opportunity and consider alternate ways to monetize content. With the proliferation of free content, placing online publications behind a pay-wall probably isn’t a winning strategy.
But using free content to build offline and paid content readership, expand value for advertisers, leverage consumer insights to hone messaging and rethink the publisher-advertiser relationship are all viable approaches. Publishers who seize the opportunity can do more than weather the transition from print to pixels -- they can thrive in the Digital Age.