Should We Expect Readers to Pay for Content?

There are no two ways about it. The media is changing. Blame the recession, blame social networking, blame the consumer – the facts are plain.

A 2019 Wall Street Journal report revealed that 1,800 US newspapers had closed between 2004 and 2018. Here in Britain, the Express is no longer a threat to the Daily Mail, while others struggle to attract paid subscriptions.

Meanwhile, 2019 saw a shaky start for online media. Online women’s magazine The Pool went into administration in January, leaving many journalists battling for pay. Cuts to Buzzfeed, Vice and many more saw a further 3,200 job losses in July. In uncertain times, paywalls may be a necessary evil for online media outlets to survive.

Quality adds value

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Research from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019 shows that demand for paid content is rising. Paying consumers are up by 9 per cent in the UK and 16 per cent in the US.

From a news perspective, this is partly down to our reliance on high-quality journalism. Reputable names such as the Washington Post have certainly profited from counteracting fake news. Today, half of all US paid news subscriptions go to just three publishers.

The same sentiment applies to marketers. Jed Williams, Chief Strategy Officer at the Local Media Association, says: “There’s growing research and market evidence that suggests consumers will pay for high-quality content and experiences. However, the product must be truly unique and differentiated.

“Think of this as a value exchange. Consumers seek information, entertainment, utility, access, empowerment and more. These are some of their critical ‘jobs to be done.’”

Just what will readers pay for?

97 per cent of digital-born news media offer free access to their news. If our customers can get this content for free, why would they pay for ours?

Following Williams’ example, our content must not only be unique and high-quality, it must comply with three basic principles. Google identified these with a recent algorithm update: Expertise, Authority and Trust (EAT). In short, it wants us to engage our users with:

  • Genuine knowledge over gossip
  • Credibility such as credentials and reviews
  • Site quality and security.

We’ve all seen gated content before – that which asks users to enter personal details before they download a report, for example. Your content must contain something your users have never seen before. Conduct your own research, write case studies or publish fresh industry insights that will prepare your customers for the future. Consider:

Finding your niche

Scientific journals or trade journals are not going to attract a mass audience, but they will satisfy a select number of paying customers. This is ideal for B2B marketers in specific trades.

Getting there first

People will pay for convenience, so if you can offer something that everybody else offers, but quicker, then do so. Former Forbes contributor Greg Sattell cites an e-book example. In preparation for an upcoming US election, those looking for quick facts were prepared to pay for a comprehensive guide. You know your industry, so keep your finger on the pulse and plan content to align with topical events.

Offer an incentive

Many content creators offer perks for their customers. For example, the Washington Post offers cheaper subscriptions for Amazon Prime members. If you’re struggling to engage with your audience, try diversifying your media. A podcast, for example, could be a teaser for a piece of paid content.

The benefit to marketers

Gated content is a fantastic lead generation tool, but paid media allows us to see how much our audiences value our content.  We can measure content types (e.g. white papers or webinars) against user interaction to determine the value of a lead. Likewise, this guides us on which types of content to create – and even better, charge for – in the future.

Fine-tuning targeting

Measuring our consumers’ interaction may give us some insights into our targeting. Perhaps we’re not making use of the right tools, from social media to video marketing, or we need to update our email data.

Improving trust

Finally, a demonstrative record of revenue-generating content helps us to strengthen our brand. We can ensure our work is top quality and that our consumers can’t get it for free elsewhere. Better quality improves credibility, thus satisfying Google’s EAT.

Key takeaways

Whatever your reason for gated content, you’ll only convince your readers to give away their details, and their hard-earned money, with:

  • Proper targeting
  • Trustworthy content
  • Diversified media
  • The occasional incentive.

It takes time to build great content and even more to build a loyal audience. Millions of us engage with free media every day. Your job is to make it worth the price.

Would you pay for content?
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
2nd September 2019