Sunday, February 05, 2006

Paying for online content?

Jim Kukral, the publisher of Revenews, talks about one of the perennial dilemmas for online publishers. The only difference was that he was talking from a reader perspective rather than a publisher's perspective--- which means that he was advocating the availability of content for free.

As a reader I tend to agree with him; I wouldn't want to pay for content if I had a choice. At the same time, if I really wanted or was in need of certain content I would pay for it.

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My question (and I responded to Jim's post on Revenews with a comment that reflected this) is: why shouldn't online publishers charge for their content, considering that content is their core product? Magazine/ News Publishing (and online publishing, in particular) is probably one of the few areas where the major revenue stream is typically not from the core product ie. content, but for being a medium to advertise/market other products & services. It's a model that's proven; and online publishers have continuously struggled to successfully charge for content. There are very few publishers that have been successful in getting people to pay for their content; and those that do are still striving to come up with the right recipe to maximize conversions.

As long as publishers are in a position to create content that users perceive valuable (or can be made to perceive as valuable), I think there is absolutely no harm in publishers charging. There will be players out in the market who may offer free content, and they even be able to attract a large number or readers; yet, if a publisher can truly differentiate himself with valuable content, I have no doubt that readers will acknowledge that value.

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There is another way to look at it, from an advertising perspective as well. Advertisers often go by the reach or the number of visitors or impressions that your ads are going to get. However, "x" number of visitors that are paying for the content will probably be a much better fit for the advertisers, simply because they value the content more. Online advertisers are perceived to be a bit more ROI-conscious; and wouldn't they prefer to reach a smaller, yet, more serious audience?


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