I would pay to stream a film or listen to music online, I would also pay to download a book but yet I don’t want to pay for news, celebrity gossip, restaurant reviews or fashion tips. There are endless websites where I can get content on these subjects for free so why pay?
A number of online publications are considering putting up paywalls on their websites; these paywalls will block access to a webpage with a window requiring payment.
When does written content online become a product?
With Rupert Murdoch leading the way with paying for content online the question on everyone’s lips is ‘does it work as a viable business model?’. Manchester Confidential bravely took on the challenge before performing a complete U-turn in less than 3 months. Mark Garner of Manchester Confidential recently alluded to Murdoch’s proposals, declaring at a digital content event in Manchester “your free trial is over”. Within a week of this bold statement How-Do announced the collapse of his paywall for Manchester confidential, with Garner finally admitting “We lost money throughout the entire year,”
I understand that a paywall will work for industry specific content like the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times. They produce very detailed financial news and information for which a small group of people are willing to pay.
Where Murdoch’s plans may fail is when he will introduce charges for websites such as The Sun and the News of the World. Paying for online content is not what most people want or accept. There are too many alternative places to get that same news on the web for free, why would people pay for it?
It’s unwise to assume the paywall model will work on all content. It won’t. People use different sites for different things.
So what makes paid content online successful? Subscription models are working all over the internet for example E-consultancy, where you have to pay for reports, independent advice and insight on digital marketing and ecommerce. It works because the information provided is useful and very specific to the industry.
Reader loyalty is key too, if your readers visit you as a passing fancy every now and then it is doubtful they will pay for the content. If someone visits everyday and can’t live without the information the publication is providing then you have a case for a paywall. It is about differentiating between your readers and looking at what is going to work best for your site.
My housemate works, lives and breathes fashion. Her library of Vogue magazines are her bibles and a monument to her passion for the industry. She visits the Vogue website daily but also subscribes to the magazine, should such a loyal reader have to pay for her online content too?
I have a few questions to ask those putting up paywalls: if a reader doesn’t think the article was worth the cost will they get their money back? What happens to consumer rights? If people are enticed to purchase an article by a catchy clever title but the content and bulk of the article was fluff, how is that fair. Can you be refunded if you have already consumed the product?
If a customer subscribes to a website paying a monthly fee does this mean they won’t have to put up with targeted advertisements? I don’t think so. The people putting up paywalls will still be gaining from advertising and affiliate revenue every chance they get. The paywall isn’t about paying for better content – in my opinion it serves no other benefit than to line the pockets of businessmen who declare, without evidence, that their content is worth paying for.
Adapting the entire print industry to the new digital platform is not going to be easy and there will be a place for both free and paid for content online. I understand the money has to come from somewhere to pay for journalists, photographers, copywriters and editors. But the one thing that needs to be factored in is the costs of producing content for the internet is no where near as high as the materials, printing costs and logistics needed to produce print based publications.
The content or services companies are providing online have to be different from any other free websites. Consumers that can get the same information anywhere else for free will do. Quality of the writing is irrelevant to most people if the information is the same.
To all those fat cats considering putting up a paywall on their websites consider one thing if you put up a paywall you need to have something that is worth paying for.