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People Will Pay for Content Online


Publishers fail to give readers good experiences

Publishers fail to give readers good experiences

Publishers fear that people will not pay for content online. People are so used to reading newspapers online for free, for example, that the expectation is that they will never pay for anything that is published online. The Wall Street Journal is a major exception to the rule.

But, listening to Ben Edwards from Economist.com at the ‘ePublishing Innovation Forum 2009‘ in London this week, he thinks that is not the case. His view is that people will pay for content content online and that “publishers have failed to build experiences which people willing to pay for”. Fair point.

The New York Times has recently launched a desktop version of its online newspaper which is accessed through a free download. You get the front page news for free. Any news you want to see beyond the front page have to be paid for through a weekly subscription. Their revenues from digital business has grown every year as a percentage of their business from 4% in 2004 to 12% in 2008.

Julian Shambles of The Telegraph Group, recently explained at the ePublishing Innovation Forum in London, that simply transferring headlines that work on a printed newspaper simply don’t work for online versions. The infamous anti-Europe headline from ‘The Sun’ “Up Yours, Delors!” has no meaning on the web. 

Why is that? It’s because people find news on the web differently. They use  a search engine to find news and when they look for ‘euro-sceptic’ related news, they probably use that phrase in their search, and not the headline which grabs people’s attention to the newspaper on a stand. 

Shambles went on to say their recent success in growing their audience and viewers online was part of a whole mix of digital re-thinking which included ensuring that their journalists were trained and familiarised with ‘search engine optimisation’ so that they wrote their articles with the thought on how to make them as friendly and searchable to Google as possible. Furthermore, news has started to be published online first rather than how it used to be with their web version being an after thought.

The emerging model in the world of digital publishing which appears to be gaining some success takes advantage of the fact that an online or digital version of a publication costs very little to produce compared to the paper version of it. So, publishers can afford to give away a lot of access for free with a small minority paying for richer versions of the publication upon which the publisher can make a profit. This is called ‘freemium‘. (I did hear one comment at the Forum say “..there is a bit too much ‘free’ in my experience, and not enough ‘mium’ in it“.

So, the fact is that people will pay for content online as long as they feel as though it is a good experience. We are overloaded with information from every imaginable source now, but there is precious little knowledge available. We are not prepared to pay for magazines or publications which are little more than advertising hoardings for recruitment companies with a few pages of poorly written articles. We will pay for knowledge, experience and insight. But has that not always been the case?

  1. 22/05/2009 at 1:26 pm

    Not sure I agree – but good post. I’ve written a few thoughts about how newspapers should learn from the music industry here – http://platform.idiomag.com/2009/05/what-can-newspapers-and-magazines-learn-from-record-labels/

    • 31/05/2009 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for for your comments and for your interesting article. It certainly is an interesting time for many people involved in publishing.



  2. davideedle
    25/05/2009 at 12:52 am

    I think you are close when you say “the fact is that people will pay for content online as long as they feel as though it is a good experience.”

    I boil it down to people will pay for content they need, delivered when they want. Traditional media takes a one size fits all stance, online enables an infinite personalization, so each subscriber receives something different from the same publication. We used this successfully in a subscription content business we ran for 6 years.

    David Eedle

    • 31/05/2009 at 8:52 pm

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your comments. Very interesting and you have demonstrated it is true with your business!



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