a man, leaning against a wall and reading on his phone
Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the flood of free content, brands should use it as an opportunity to explore new ways to monetize their content PHOTO: Warren Wong

All companies involved in content creation and management face a major problem which will only worsen over time — how can we compete with the increasing amounts of free content? Rather than bemoaning the flood of freely available content, take the opportunity now to strategize more creative ways to monetize your content in the future.

Put yourself in the position of the content consumer. If you were them, which content would you be willing to pay for and what types of content would you expect to be free? As you come up with answers, also directly poll your content consumers for their thoughts on paid versus free content.

Counter Free Content with Quality Content

One way you can compete with free content is by differentiating your content based on its accuracy, timeliness, relevance, viewpoint and insight. If you’ve not already identified unique selling points for your content versus that of your competitors — free or paid — now is the time to do so. You may also look to partner with other content companies to provide compelling paid content which draws on your combined strengths.

If you’re selling your content to audiences as a reliable source of up-to-date information, then you must ensure that is indeed the case. Do you have the necessary checks and balances in place within your organization to result in the production of error-free and consistent content? There’s no faster way for a content company to lose a paying audience than failing to deliver on what it's promised. You may need to rethink some of your workflow processes and invest in digital governance tools if you haven’t already done so.

Charge Differently for Must-Have Versus Nice-to-Have Content

Think about how your audience will use your content. Is the information you provide a must-have data source or more of a nice-to-have? If the former, charging for your content, which may come with its own guarantees or certifications of quality, is likely to be an easier argument to make to your audience than the latter. That said, there are also audiences out there who will readily pay for an opinionated or entertaining take on a specific topic or a more general worldview.

We will also continue to see the growth of new types of media companies where a brand is built around a single person. Content, in this case, may be available free of charge and act as a driver to encourage the audience interested in that individual to buy branded products or to pay for branded events.

Mix Up Your Content Subscription Models

Look at how you currently charge for your content and whether your audience is growing, stalled or declining. Think about investigating additional payment models and research how your peers and those content companies in industries other than your own are approaching this issue. For instance, are micropayments an interesting avenue to explore now or is this option not yet user-friendly enough?

Alternatively, perhaps your current paid content model of 10 free articles per month before a subscription is required frustrates rather than excites your audience. Consider, if not already available, whether offering an all-encompassing subscription to your content makes sense. This kind of monthly, annual or multi-year subscription could cover all your publications rather than a single magazine.

Perhaps what your audience might appreciate most is a complete menu of content payment options so they can choose which option best suits them. Make the sign-up, cancellation and re-subscribe processes as simple and painless as possible and also ensure it’s easy for consumers to move from one type of paid offering to another and back again.

Curate Personalized Content Collections

Another approach your audience may respond positively to is a variation on the ‘bookazine’ concept, where the focus is on attractively packaging up existing content on specific topics of interest to content consumers. You may look to offer book/magazine hybrids as paid print publications and/or as paid online offerings. In the online world, you could continue to add to or refine the bookazine as you create new content on that topic.

Think of curating content across some or all of your publications or brands not as a cannibalization of existing paid content subscriptions but as a new avenue for revenue generation.

In targeting a particular audience, you may use your content to build a community where paying for content is the entry point to that group of people with the same interests. A content subscription to this community may also come with additional incentives, for instance, early access to tickets for an event of interest to that group.

With access to more sophisticated consumer analytics, you also have the opportunity to personalize your content to individuals. This may open the door to targeting specific paid content to individuals particularly in collating the content they are most interested in consuming. Knowing more about your audience can also give you actionable insight into which new types of content you may want to create for a broader audience to address any gaps in what you already provide.

Take Advantage of New Content Venues

As the volume of content increases, there’s another factor to take into account: the opening up of new potential markets and consumers for your content. For instance, consider the emergence of the self-driving car as an opportunity to serve up content to the passengers in those vehicles.

Instead of trying to resist the rise of free content, start to investigate a variety of paid-content models and consider when you should charge for your content and where it makes sense to make that content freely available. In some cases, your content will be a primary revenue generator, while in other scenarios, your content will help to seed consumer interest in other non-content offerings.

This is the third in a series of articles from WoodWing examining the future of content. The first article on the impact of emerging technologies is here and the second article on the need to reorganize internally and externally is here.