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Gini Dietrich

Four Ways to Charge for Content

By: Gini Dietrich | March 22, 2011 | 
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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

81 comments
MaureenB2B
MaureenB2B

I know I'm a little late to the post, and I do agree with you and @John Falchetto regarding what appear to be the holes in the NYT pay plan. That notwithstanding, here are my two cents:

1. I am a fan of HuffPo AND NYT, WaPo - but I don't think there's any comparison between quality of news and reporting. To me, HuffPo is a cross between People and USA Today. I'd absolutely pay for content at NYT and WaPo, but wouldn't pay for HuffPo. This country needs great reporting and in-depth analysis and I'd pay for it.

2. I don't think it serves us in the Business Content space to look to what's going on in paid/unpaid journalism. It's apples and oranges. We are building a new paradigm here and will have to gather and analyze data as we go.

So bravo you, Gini, for starting a quality trend.

SeanMcGinnis
SeanMcGinnis

One of the things that's been left out of the discussion thus far is a deeper analysis of the business model (and rightfully so). One big question remaining, is charge for what content? Better put, what form does the charged for content take? Here's an illustration of an alternative approach.

One of my favorite resources is Manager Tools. Their business model began as a free weekly podcast. As they built a thriving community, they added a paid subscription model to some premium content. Now they do conferences. They're still "charging for content" just not in the typical "we're a blog and charging through a paywall" way. Instead, they use the podcast as a marketing arm to familiarize you with their approach, a free taste. Now they charge $1000-$2000 per head for their conferences (WELL worth it by the way, especially if you lead people in your role).

Ricardo Bueno
Ricardo Bueno

I don't think there's anything wrong with charging for your content. If it's filling a (legitimate) need and people are willing to pay for it, more power to you. Take Chris Brogan's Blog Topics newsletter for example, it's less than the cost of lunch for a day and well worth the investment if you need a lil writing help.

InTreehouses
InTreehouses

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 which some bloggers and writers are starting to charge for their published works. It's a deep, deep topic though, as you note.

Glad you enjoyed the article, I'd be happy to chat further about the topic if you're keen.

Thom Chambers

Editor & Publisher, In Treehouses

T60Productions
T60Productions

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 I ever decide to share my Nana's tomato sause recipe... that I would have to charge for... and charge a lot. You don't give gold like that away. :-)

--Tony Gnau

therealkazia
therealkazia

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.

katerobins
katerobins

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. I'll happily pay professionals to keep their place in this world so that sources and audiences can find them easily when it matters the most.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

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 needs to be remarkable but it is not enough. The goal remains the most important, you have a clear goal with SpinSucks and with project JB. Defining the revenue model is much more than asking, should I charge for content?

In the end people will buy, but I am not sure they buy because of the content perhaps they buy the author.

Marcus_Sheridan
Marcus_Sheridan

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 an awesome community. Form an inner circle that rocks. Create raving and reliable fans. Then, with all that leverage, go after the jugular with books and speaking engagements....and charge BIG for those.

So for me, I have the 'make very little now to make a whole lot later approach'....and I like that methodology because it suites the way I roll. :-)

Thanks again,

Marcus

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@MaureenB2B I really do look at the music industry to see how they deal with illegal downloads and a move toward all things digital. I think it's closer to apples and apples than journalism...to your point

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SeanMcGinnis And conferences seem to be the way most content providers make money. I'm looking past that. I want a way for people to connect and learn without having to leave their desks and spend an arm and a leg to get somewhere, learn, be overwhelmed, go back to the office, and not implement anything. I want people to learn every day and implement immediately because it's in manageable chunks.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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 moderator

@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?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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!

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@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.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@HowieG 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!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@John Falchetto 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.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@John Falchetto @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 moderator

@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 @Danny Brown !

MaureenB2B
MaureenB2B

@ginidietrich Funny re music. I'm an outlier particularly as it relates to copyrights and music. No one in my house is allowed to listen to music they didn't purchase. I'm not surprised that I have to manage this with the teens, but my very kind, upstanding husband is often dumbfounded when I'm ticked to hear that one of his friends gave him some music for free.

I'm always telling them - just because it's super easy to steal doesn't make it right!

Look forward to hearing how you extrapolate from the music industry.

FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer

@ginidietrich @SeanMcGinnis

I'm with Gini on this.

My sense is that $1,000/head conferences will run their course as attendees come to realize that they're just paying for overhead and getting live presentations of the stuff they could get for free on the presenters' blogs, podcasts, etc., or from comparable subject matter experts who still give away their content as a marketing nexus to their paid consulting work. And how do you get repeat business on a $1,000/head product? High customer acquisition costs if you have to get a new crowd every time.

A lot hinges on the definition of "premium" content. For me, that's actual work product -- providing specific tools and solving specific problems. Custom content, or micro-consulting if you like, which could be delivered online and through mobile devices. Directly actionable counsel that subscribers can, as Gini said, "implement immediately because it's in manageable chunks."

ryahalbatros
ryahalbatros

@ginidietrich @SeanMcGinnis I love how you explained this Gini. In a small way it's what I want to be able to do too. Also as someone who can't spend an arm and a leg to get somewhere, and even if I did be too useless to do anything one I got there, learning at my desk is my only option.

InTreehouses
InTreehouses

@ginidietrich Thanks! You're right, as I say - it takes more than being remarkable to make an income, but it's a necessary starting point I think. Would definitely be happy to talk further, I'm actually starting a site devoted to digital publishing soon so will be exploring in more depth there - did a recent interview on the topic here as well: http://evbogue.com/chambers/

Great discussion, though, you've certainly touched upon a nerve judging from the depth of the comments. So much to discuss in this area!

T60Productions
T60Productions

@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 can use the company FlipCam?

Simple, we do it better. In the end, our work speaks for itself and people can see if for themselves.

If that doesn't work, I just bring my Emmy statues to the meeting. Kidding... although maybe I should try that sometime. :-)

--Tony Gnau

katerobins
katerobins

By sources, I mean people we need to hear with information that could untie us from the railroad tracks. Let's not make it too hard for them to find places with experience, legal and security war-chests, and access to other sources to help with that. Deep Throat + Washington Post = Watergate; Phil Hilts + Big Tobacco investigation = smoke-free zones and so on. Any intelligent guesses on what that kind of package costs? I don't know but I'll call The Post and TImes and find out. Science sections are as endangered as penguins; weather -- the former lightweight topic for out-of-work clowns -- takes on new seriousness every day; dictator regimes are coming to term; we've got these still unanswered questions about nuclear power that are especially pressing now that Japan leaching and leaking and #100factsaboutme is the number one trending topic . I'm just saying, don't confuse news with noise.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

@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 moderator

@ryahalbatros I think learning at one's desk is going to be a trend we see more and more of...especially as content is created to be interacted with through tablets.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@InTreehouses Let me know when your new site launches - I'm definitely interested in what you have to say there!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@T60Productions I love that you're not afraid to put your contact info here! I'm asking so I know how/when to refer business to you.

T60Productions
T60Productions

@ginidietrich The majority of what we do are "About Us" videos. Something to show potential customers what a company is all about.

Goose Island has been a great client. We've done videos on several of their beers that the company distributes as education pieces.

Event videos are popular as well. Shooting video at an event then producing a piece that can be sent out to participants afterwards.

Those are just a few types... let me know if you want me to stop by sometime. I'm always happy to share!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@T60Productions You should totally try it. I DARE you!

So tell me when a client would hire you. What types of videos?

KellyeCrane
KellyeCrane

@John Falchetto @ginidietrich This is a very interesting point, John, and it goes to a buzzword that hasn't been mentioned yet: trust. We trust those we have a relationship with to deliver good content in exchange for our dollars. That trust can be lost if the content ceases to be of high quality/valuable, but overall we prefer to pay when we have a relationship.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

@ginidietrich These people will make it their mission to find out more about the author. What is the first thing you say when you hear a great piece of music?

I think this brings us back to all this fuss about personal branding, or why does Hollywood send movie stars to talk about their movies, or why do we buy music from a certain artist.

I believe that when it comes to creation (and content is a creation) WHO creates it is more important than the content itself.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@John Falchetto Sigh. OK. Wait. Before you completely have me on your side...what about the people who don't know the author but hear great things about her content?

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