Content Monetization and the Shift to Subscriptions

Content Monetization and the Shift to Subscriptions

Would you prefer to read honest content, which is not lost in between jarring advertisements and redundant keywords? Are you willing to pay the extra bit for articles that are personalised to suit your interest?

As conscious readers are shifting their attitudes to answer these questions with a resounding YES, it is high time that publishers made reader experience the focal point of their business strategy.

Today, there exists an abundance of free content to an extent that is regarded as information overdose. Hidden under the canopy of advertising is a parched industry that stopped earning when brick and mortar publications went online.

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Newspapers and magazines were always paid media, but technology has disrupted the way content is consumed. True, monetising content is a challenge, and publishers did turn to advertisements as contribution to revenue, but since when did they become the breadwinners of this intellectual game? When did we lose track of the burger, in light of the sides? Alas, the only step that seems to make sense now, is of course, not to start over- but to shake things up a little.

As a publication, the first step would be to understand your target audience and customise your content offerings, so that readers see value in revisiting it each time. The idea is to move away from a 'one size fits all' to a 'tailored' approach. Subscription models which offer unlimited content for certain periods of time were the first change to hit the market. With subscriptions, publishing houses began to recognize the value of consistently reliable content, the promise of which would garner more subscribers. Soon, subscriptions started operating on a tier based system. The front runner in this space was the Guardian which used a 3 tier Subscription model back in 2016. Each of the tiers supported a varied set of privileges including ad free content, free books and event tickets. Surprisingly, this small step, led to a 93% growth in digital subscription base.

The foray by the Guardian set off wake-up calls in the industry. Publishers, large and small, soon realised that they were just in time to prune their content from fake news and irrelevant advertisements. Segmentation seemed to be a survival strategy - specific groups of people could pay for specific types of content alone. The thought being- As a sportsperson, I may pay the extra buck to read about sports. To drill this down further - If I were a fan of Roger Federer, I would pay a sizeable amount to read about his schedule, technique, or track record.

Tangentially, I may not even be a follower of sports, but I may feel like reading about Federer on a certain day, perhaps for lack of better inspiration. The concept of paying per article i.e. `micropayments`, helps bridge this gap by providing audiences sachets of information- samples of exclusive news and analysis that users can buy on a one-to-one basis.

Micropayments are arguably a litmus test for interesting content, as the model guarantees a direct correlation between the quality of your content and the money it brings. Analytics works as the key revenue driver, as it enables marketers to study audience preferences and build niche profiles in order to grow micropayments and establish a loyal customer base. It would be fair to say that these customers are positioned to benefit from micropayments due to their ease of use, robust systems, and the multitude of one click payment wallets (e.g.Paytm).

If you have not zeroed in on joining this bandwagon, techniques like providing freemiums/metering could help you make this choice. Your content is said to be metered when the first few of many articles are free, after which a reader would have to pay to read the rest. Such techniques help users judge whether your type of content may suit their palate, and would give authors and content creators a renewed chance to set standards, to differentiate content, and to influence pricing.

An advertising led, pop-up clad revenue model is not sustainable, and innovation is key in the media and entertainment industry. Micropayments as a model lies not too far from the original comfort zone of the reader, as it gives them the chance to experience premium content without much investment. The model is also efficient for publishers who are well positioned to use their brand value and editorial skills to become the one stop shop for readers.

In effect, this shift would help publishing houses to focus on their key strength - progressive journalism. In the words of the New York Times, the industry would be positioned to support independent journalism, by paying for it.

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