Gini Dietrich

Four Ways to Charge for Content

By: Gini Dietrich | March 22, 2011 | 
88

On Friday, I received an email from the New York Times telling me, that as a subscriber, I now have the option to get my news on my phone or iPad and that they’re going to begin charging for that news.

My first reaction was, “GOOD! We all deserve to make money on our content and this should help us begin to find ways to charge.”

I’ve always believed that service providers are more willing to pay other service providers than someone who makes widgets for a living. So if I read your content and you’re now going to charge me, I’m cool with that.

I included a story about the pros and cons of the NY Times charging in last week’s Gin and Topics.

And that opened the can of worms.

John Falchetto, one of my very favorite people, debated me on why The Huffington Post seems to have gotten it right without charging, but the NY Times can’t. Then, over dinner, Mr. D told me his biggest problem with it is he can go to a blog and read the content there.

That’s right. The bloggers’ content is still free and, if they link to a story behind the paywall, you’ll still be able to access it.

So what’s the point?

The point is that the paper isn’t making any money and they’re losing advertisers. They have to figure out how to make payroll and maybe even make some money.

Yes, HuffPo figured it out and made their money on advertising because they have so many readers. It’ll be interesting to watch and see if they continue that business model under AOL or if advertisers begin to flock to the shiny new penny.

And maybe the NY Times can learn a thing or two from them. But if you can still access their content for free, they’re missing the point.

Free Is Boring

Enter a guest post yesterday by Thom Chambers on SocialMouths called “Free Is Boring: Why You Need to Change How You Give Stuff Away.”

It’s a good read that begins with the introduction of Wikipedia and the birth of free content. If you haven’t read it, I recommend heading over there next. It’s good.

I agree with the premise of his blog post, but I don’t totally agree with his thoughts that making your blog remarkable will allow you to begin charging. He says stories, editing, and evolving will help you make your blog remarkable. And, by doing those things, you’ll be able to make money.

Yes, your content needs to be remarkable. But being remarkable isn’t enough.

Charging for Content

Let’s assume your content is remarkable and you’ve followed the advice of Thom (which you should do, even if you have no plans to make money from it). What are the real tricks to making money from your intellectual property?

  1. What is your end goal? When I started taking this blog seriously in June 2009, the goals were to figure out if a blog could create thought leadership (yes) and if it would drive business to Arment Dietrich (yes). Then we used it to see if people will pay for certain things (yes) and how much they’ll pay (depends on what it is). Now the goal is to build customers for Project Jack Bauer. Whether or not that works is yet to be seen, but if our past indicates anything, the answer is a resounding yes.
  2. Where do people want to consume your content? It might not be on a blog on the web. Is it on a tablet? It it through an app on their smartphone? Have you asked? This question is different than where they consume it now.
  3. What’s coming next? Are you thinking about what’s coming next? For instance, we know the big shift to elearning and professional development, in the next 24-30 months, is going to be on a tablet. So, while it won’t be our main launching point in May, we are moving very quickly to a totally customized and interactive experience for the tablet.
  4. Where can you learn lessons? We pay very close attention to what’s happening in the music industry. It’s the same…and it’s different. How many of you have downloaded music for free? How many of you haven’t felt guilty about it? You’re taking something away from the artist, no matter how you feel about how much money they already make or your opinion on whether or not it’s enough for them. How would you feel if you were in their shoes? Pay attention to industries that have already gone through what you’re experiencing and learn from it.

There isn’t a magic answer for charging for your content because it depends on what it is and whether or not people find it remarkable. But if you have strong and unwavering answers to the four questions above, you’ll begin to find ways to make money on your IP.

What do you think?

* Thanks to Media Futurist for the cartoon

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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88 Comments on "Four Ways to Charge for Content"

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jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 3 months ago

The cheapskate inside me says “NO!” but it really does make sense. I think we have all just been spoiled by years of free online content but we used to have to pay for newspaper and magazine subscriptions so it is not wild to go back to this model. I think there is also a difference now in what media houses can offer consumers online – a more personalized experience with content that is relevant to my interests and online context. I think that is worth the extra dough.

bdorman264
bdorman264
5 years 3 months ago
Now that I’m ‘in’ I can’t spend all this money I’m making…………..hold on, there’s the Brinks truck out front again…………….ok, I’m back…….. I see jgwhitt’s comment about being cheap and I’m right there with him. There is so, so much content out there it would be hard not have access to what you want somewhere in this vast ‘universe’. I think your method of using content to drive people to other products/services you offer seems like the most logical model. There are a gazillion writers out there and what percentage do you think actually make sustainable, livable income from it?… Read more »
joey_strawn
5 years 3 months ago
Gini, I’ve struggled with this exact same question recently. It’s hard to find the balance of “well everyone expects my stuff to be free and might be perturbed if I started asking for money” and “well, I have to make a living too and can’t be giving the farm away”. I’m not going to add too many new ideas to the pot as I believe the best method (online) is to establish yourself as credible via free content which will then drive business and attention to more “premium” offers. I’ve been juggling the ideas of ebooks and webinars and even… Read more »
AnneHolland
AnneHolland
5 years 3 months ago
Per our research at SubscriptionSiteInsider.com, this year Americans will pay roughly $15 billion for online content subscriptions… plus more billions for one-off access to content (ebooks, music downloads, etc.) The model works best for must-have niche content, entertainment & personal networking – such as investing, hobbies, career, love life, B2B industry niche. BUT worth noting, even there the model works best as part of a hybrid. 80% paid content, 20% other revenue streams such as ads, other branded info products, consulting, events, whatever … 54% of paid content sites have other revenue streams and they are among the most profitable.… Read more »
AnneHolland
AnneHolland
5 years 3 months ago
Per our research at SubscriptionSiteInsider.com, this year Americans will pay roughly $15 billion for online content subscriptions… plus more billions for one-off access to content (ebooks, music downloads, etc.) The model works best for must-have niche content, entertainment & personal networking – such as investing, hobbies, career, love life, B2B industry niche. BUT worth noting, even there the model works best as part of a hybrid. 80% paid content, 20% other revenue streams such as ads, other branded info products, consulting, events, whatever … 54% of paid content sites have other revenue streams and they are among the most profitable.… Read more »
Brankica
5 years 3 months ago
Hey Gini, this is the perfect timing for me. I just published my blog on Kindle the other day. It is priced 1.99$ for monthly subscription and it seems that is a nice price. I didn’t do it for money because I would need hundreds of subscribers every month to make any money with it. But it is the convenience I am offering my readers the reason I did it. I am a Kindle addict and I am the first one that is willing to pay for free stuff if they make my life easier. So I think it is… Read more »
DonovanGroupInc
DonovanGroupInc
5 years 3 months ago

I like the idea of charging for content – especially if people online see it as being of “value” to them. I think as the Web continues to develop there has to be room for both free and pay-per-view in terms of content. Maybe not for everyone but I don’t mind paying for online content that I believe is worth it to me. Thanks Gini.

Marcus_Sheridan
5 years 3 months ago

@BrankicaVery cool take on this Brankica. I had never looked at it that way….hmmm, ya got me thinkin 😉

wabbitoid
5 years 3 months ago
Let’s leave aside PuffHo for a moment – they didn’t pay most of their contributors. I think we can all accept that just about any business can make money given an endless supply of slave labor. On my own humble li’l blog I do a lot of experiments. I just passed a two-week test of twitter saturation and determination of the best times locally for tweeting, which gives me data I’ll use to help my clients. One of my many experiments was to try an old-fashioned NPR-style “pledge drive”. It simply didn’t work as well as I’d like – even… Read more »
KarenARocks
KarenARocks
5 years 3 months ago
I have no problem paying for content I find to be of value. Where I do have a problem is when the price points are unrealistic. Apps for instance…I find most of them to be way undervalued, with some even great apps to be free. I don’t create apps, but I don’t work for free and would like to hear the business plans of those who continue to offer free apps. On the other end of the spectrum, a local paper of mine offers content online for free, for only a week. After that week you need to pay $2.95… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 3 months ago
I have discussed this many times over the years with people. I am proponent of microcharges. Back before the internet Papers had monopolies in their locations. They could afford big payrolls and having bureaus all around the world. Then came the internet. Then the Washington Post started competing with the NY Times, Guardian UK, Seattle Post Intelligencer etc. Now we could go to the BEST content, not just the ones we were stuck with (if only we had this many choices in Cable TV providers), The second part and most damaging was the BIG LIE. Digital Ad networks LIED and… Read more »
Garmoe
Garmoe
5 years 3 months ago
Gini, Long time reader, first time commenter. Love the blog! Anyhow, I’ve struggled with this as well. Two things to add: 1. Often people will pay for something, just because it’s sort of an unofficial promise they’ll get a better version than what’s free. For example, my friend charges for blog post ideas here http://needatopic.com/ he charges $7 a month for blog post topics that probably are about as valuable as what you get from free here http://bestbloggingtipsonline.com/ but people pay because they like my friend, or they believe it’s better than what they can get for free. (In full… Read more »
Marcus_Sheridan
5 years 3 months ago
First of all Gini, this is a great subject because we’re all going to be faced with it more and more in the coming years, so we betta pay attention 😉 My general take is this though— Make money however you can, whenver you can, on your content….if that’s your goal, as there is nothing wrong with such desires, especially if the stuff has value (and the readers will decide that). Does that mean you charge people for it up front? Maybe so, maybe not, depends on the business model. Here is my model: Create a freaking awesome blog with… Read more »
wabbitoid
5 years 3 months ago
@HowieSPM As always, Howie, very spot on. I think there is a LOT to learn about the newspaper model, if for no other reason than it was stable for 150 years – and even found application in broadcast techs like radio and TV. I’ve written about this extensively m’self. But I want to engage you a bit on the digital ad problem – while I agree with every point you make, the great deception was based on the idea that digital ads were worth about as much as print ads, if not more. That may be true, but print ads… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 3 months ago
I @wabbitoid i agree with you. It was all new. We had no idea. But I have been viewing digital differently lately. In fact giving it more value. A banner ad is like a billboard. And you can prove more easily it is seen vs a billboard or even print. I am clueless on CPM rates. But I think Traditional Advertising has used the measurability of Digital as a way to attack since most Traditional (TV, Print, Billboards) is very hard to measure. In fact my reason for getting into Advertising was to find better ways to value these things.… Read more »
johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago
Hey Gini, I made to favorite status! I think a lot of the corrupted ideas around free content comes from the Freemium model created by software developers. You can blog for free (almost) but if you want a nicer theme you need to pay, almost every application online is build around this model, free entry but pay access to the premium stuff. I am a bit confused about the NYT model, it wants to charge and then leaves huge holes for people to access its content through Google and social media. I agree with you completly when you say content… Read more »
johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan Marcus I do hope a signed copy of the Sales Lions journey or Marcus Musings?

katerobins
katerobins
5 years 3 months ago
Even though news is easy enough to find for free, I imagine most of us don’t walk out of a store without with a paper or magazine without paying for it. I’ll also assume that we pay for the publications not just because we respect the shopkeeper, but because we recognize we’ve got a product in hand that we didn’t have when we entered. Still, somewhere in the mess of the recession and the internet a lot of people confused professional journalism with branded blogging and the latter’s start-up attempts as everyone else’s right to free product from seasoned professionals.… Read more »
wabbitoid
5 years 3 months ago
@HowieSPM I’d love to talk to you sometime about all this. Hell, I’d love to be a part of this because I think it’s a place where someone like me (even without appropriate degrees, etc) has something to add to the whole process. I come at this first as a writer – a person who paints images in people’s heads with words. My long piece on this problem starts with the basics and … well, doesn’t really get anywhere. http://tinyurl.com/ykrsfeu What you are talking about is getting past this, and the model of a billboard is an excellent approach, IMHO.… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 3 months ago

I normally don’t post links on any blogs that are not mine. But this is a great analysis of the NY Times Pay Wall by benkunz who is a very sharp person in the media buying industry and this is relevant to this discussion. http://www.thoughtgadgets.com/2011/03/modeling-nyts-paywall-in-6-basic-steps.html

therealkazia
5 years 3 months ago

Hi Gini! Long time reader, first time commentor.

I’ve had this conversation with other blogger friends of mine too many times to count.

Here’s my 2 cents in getting paid for content. What you give away for free is content that helps build an audience, mostly, that’s the stuff you write for your own site. And yes, great content builds a dedicated and loyal audience.

Then, once you’ve built your audience, then you have something to market to others. It’s not your writing/content that you’re getting paid for, it’s your audience.

wabbitoid
5 years 3 months ago

@HowieSPM Excellent! Thank you very much. This is similar to the analysis I do on my own blog, breaking it down by hits per visit (1 is 47%, 2 is 26%, 3 is 16%, etc). It’s translating that into revenue that is the hard part, of course, so this article is very cool stuff. Thanks again!

T60Productions
5 years 3 months ago
Hi Gini… I guess I come to this from a different perspective because in many ways our business has become a video content creator for hire. We provide professional video content for companies’ websites, social media, e-mail blasts, etc. Charging for the content we provide is expected. As you know, we’ve been blogging and providing other content as well, but when it comes to that we really look at it as a way to further demonstrate we’re experts in our field. That’s our end game with the blog and our social media. I don’t foresee us changing that, but if… Read more »
wabbitoid
5 years 3 months ago

@therealkazia As a writer, I fear you are right – scratch that, I’m sure you are but I fight it. Capitalizing on your audience is very difficult and appropriate methods vary a lot based on the nature of the content that brung ’em there in the first place. I don’t yet know how to sell a product based on news and commentary, for example, outside of assembling it into a book of some kind. I think that’s what I have to work on now.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 3 months ago

@johnfalchetto @ginidietrich said you bought her off with a case of Brunello wine.

I have thought about TV in this way John. We have this weird set up where we pay an access fee for unlimited content, but the content providers rely on us seeing ads. If we took ads off TV/Cable I use the movies as my rule of thumb. Which we pay about $5-6 per hour for premium content. Wonder how quickly TV viewing would drop at those rates?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@jgwhitt LOL! I think we all feel that way. Honestly, if I didn’t create so much content, I probably would have had the first initial reaction the same as yours. And I totally agree that if you can make it more personalized and customizable, people are willing to pay for it. Now how to do that….

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@bdorman264 Or rob the Brinks truck apparently! You know, your point is well taken that there are lots of writers out there who don’t make a living. Hmmm….now you have me thinking of something new.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago
@joey_strawn When we started offering products for sale, NO ONE bought them. Not even our close friends. It was pretty frustrating to create something and not have any takers. Which is why you see webinars…we don’t have to create content for those until we know people are going to buy. And, while the new eBook has been in the works for nearly a year, the timing to launch it wasn’t right. So I think you a) have to start charging for something to get your community used to premium products, b) be willing to test a few things out, and… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@AnneHolland Anne, THANK YOU so much for coming by and giving us these stats. Great tips about combining the revenue streams, too. I didn’t know about SubscriptionSiteInsider and am checking you out now.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan @Brankica Like Marcus, I hadn’t thought of that, either. HURRAY BRANKICA!!!!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@DonovanGroupInc So what would make it worth it to you?

InTreehouses
InTreehouses
5 years 3 months ago
Hi Gini, Thanks for the mention. I do agree that being remarkable is only a starting point rather than a direct route to generating an income from one’s work. Making your published efforts remarkable is more of a way to get readers returning for more – to come back and to listen and to engage – than it is a shortcut to charging for content. As you say, it’s where one goes from there that’s the challenge. Last month I published a free e-magazine on the subject called We’re All Publishers Now, which in part looks at the ways in… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@wabbitoid May I make a suggestion? Ask your readers what they want. I know I’d be willing to tell you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@KarenARocks I like to look at how some of the more savvy media handle apps. You download the app for free and they give you the table of contents. If you want to read it, you pay for the subscription. And it’s not less than the newsstand price. I’m willing to pay for it because I’m not killing a tree and I don’t have to go to the drug store.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@HowieSPM And if only we had these options in utilities. And phone companies. And then the big lie birthed Groupon. What did that get us?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago
@Garmoe And you’re a guest blogger today! Twice in one day. Woo hoo! Interesting thinking on giving away the what. In the traditional business, that’s what we do too. And this blog has been great for generating business to our charging for the how. dannybrown is a friend of mine and I don’t know Justin (and Chris Brogan is charging for ideas, too). But my guess, based on his site, that Justin has very niche subscribers, which is likely how he’s able to charge. I know the ideas Danny gives away are not anything any of us can’t come up… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan I had BETTER be asked for a quote for your book…and a signed copy when it’s published!

I love that you’ve already thought through your model. You’ve already done number one. Most people haven’t done that or, if they have, they don’t know what it is. When I started blogging, I really had no idea to expect, but you can bet your life on the fact that I know EXACTLY where it’s going now. I’m headed for @DannyBrown !

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@johnfalchetto Sure, they might buy the author to start, which is why I’ve spent so much time building community. But they’re not going to stay if we don’t have all of our revenue streams figured out (we do – mostly) or if we get complacent (we’d better not – it’s our number one value). You definitely made me think of the NYT model differently and I thank you for that.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@HowieSPM @johnfalchetto It would really only take a case of California cab.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@katerobins “Keep their place in this world” – that made me LOL! I think you’re one of very few (I’m with you). I’ll definitely pay for content if the author is someone I get great value from at least twice a week.

johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago

@ginidietrich Yes this is why I would pay for Spinsucks but not for the NYT, I have zero relationship with the NYT. Buy the author not the content 🙂

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@therealkazia My RT BFF! Yay! Yep – totally agree with you. That’s why I’ve spent nearly the past three years building community. To launch Project Jack Bauer in May!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@InTreehouses I thought your guest post was brilliant – and I agreed with every part of it. My point only was that it takes more than being remarkable so I hope you took this simply as an extension to your really well-written piece. Perhaps we could combine the efforts and write an eBook?!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@johnfalchetto BUT…will you keep paying if the content becomes unremarkable or I get complacent?

johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago

@ginidietrich Maybe a few cases @HowieSPM Nobody would pay these rates for TV, you are absolutely right.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@T60Productions Crap. I gave away Big Mama’s sugo recipe. I shouldn’t have done that?! Well, sorry. No one is going to pay for yours now.

I have a question for you…sure you are a video content creator for hire. But in this world where everyone thinks they can do it themselves, don’t you fight that “I don’t want to pay you when I have a Flip cam” perception?

johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago

@ginidietrich If YOU become unremarkable and complacent then yes I will stop paying, nobody pays for content

wabbitoid
5 years 3 months ago

@ginidietrich I thought I have been asking! The answer is that people like my social / historical stuff even more than economics, which surprised me. But perhaps I’m too subtle again. I keep forgetting that some people aren’t as blunt as I am. I’ll work on it.

So, what do you want? 🙂

jgwhitt
jgwhitt
5 years 3 months ago
@ginidietrich That is a good question. The company I work for deals with this topic quite a bit so it is top of mind for me. Interestingly enought, I just stepped off a call with an analyst and he touched on this exact topic. In short, he said that customizing content really starts with simple analytics. For most everyone in this audience, these can be the tools that come with the blog platform you use or even Google Analytics. You just need to see what content performs well with certain groups, in various online contexts. The context takes into account… Read more »
T60Productions
5 years 3 months ago
@ginidietrich I actually try not to fight that position as much as I attempt to encourage and educate. If all someone wants to do is post a daily/weekly Vlog… cough, cough Spin Sucks.. I encourage them to pick up their FlipCam. But if they’re looking to do more than that, then I educate them on why hiring a professional storyteller is the better way to go. Why buy a Cadillac when you can take the bus? Why go to Starbucks instead of getting coffee at the gas station? Why go to T60 to produce your video when Ted in accounting… Read more »
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