Paid Content – A snack or a Meal?
A lot of people are talking to me about the paid content problem. When Rupert Murdoch starts takiing the subject seriously suddenly everyone sits up and pays attention. Just a few weeks ago Emap announced that the content from their paid mgazaines was no longer to be made available free and would be put behind a pay wall. Every media company I know is thinking about how to sell content. Most will fail.
The motivation for this is the difficulties many are having in building a sustainable advertising based digital solution. Building strategy around the failure of its predescessor caries some risks, not least that the implementation will misunderstand how online paid content works.
If readers have paid for magazines in the past, some argue, then there is no reason why they should not pay for that content online too. For newspaper publishers and business media owners this is a fundamentally flawed understanding. Consumption of newspaper printed material is a “lean back” extended disovery of content. When I pay for my Saturday paper I know I will spend at least half an hour and probably more exploring it. I am likely to read most of the UK news pages, a good chunk of the foreign news, at least one of the leaders, a rummage through the sports pages and an attempt at the crossword. I am concentrating on the newspaper, and am fully engaged wth the taxonomy of its construction. I am enjoying the atmosphere of the paper and its familiarity of structure.
In business magazines the experience of readers is similar. When print readers are researched they will tell publishers that, depending on the magazine they spend, between 20minutes and an hour on reading their trade title (leastways they used to before the Internet.)
How different is this from consumption on the Web? It is completely different. The traffic patterns on web sites are very different from print circulations. Most b2b sites will have characteristics similar to the following list;
1) Most traffic comes from natural search (implication – answering the search enquiry is more important than the publishers brand)
2) The bounce rate is between 60% and 70% (implication – if the purpose of a landing page is to get the user to consume another page the approach is failing for most users)
3) The average page views/visit is between 2 and 3. (Implication - A few users are consuming many more than the average but our levels of engagement with users, even when the information is free is too low to create a paid content model)
4) The amount of time spent on a page averages at less than a minute. (Implication – an individual page or article does not matter that much)
What can we conclude from this? It appears that consuming web news is a lean forward short content consumption snack. Readers who buy the Guardian every day and would never been seen dead with a copy of the Telegraph are much less loyal on the web. If I want to read about the Grand Prix last weekend, I can make a search engine enquiry and discover muliple sources of information. I will visit a site, perhaps not even note the publisher and then back out intothe search engine and move on.
Snacking for information in this way is very different from the lean back engagement I once enjoyed with the printed media and cannot be monetised in the same way.
There may be a very small number of users who can be persuaded that a subscription to online newspaper content is worthwhile, but it is highly unlikely to be a sustainable business model.
Does this mean that paid content strategies are doomed? Not at all and in business media the opportunity is huge, but the approach to content selling is not the same online as in print, any more than the marketing and pricing strategy for Gordon Ramsay is the same as that for Spud u Like.
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