The Most Disruptive Pricing Strategy

Should your digital magazine be free, paid or something in between?

Peter Sprague is a disruptive guy. About five years ago, Peter decided the world needed a new guitar magazine. Peter is a seasoned media executive who understands both quality editorial and media economics. So when I say Peter launched a magazine, I simplify.

What Peter really did, was launch a new multiplatform niche media brand. Today, the Premier Guitar brand reaches almost one million enthusiasts every month. Guitarists can follow Premier Guitar on the web, via e-mail, on Twitter, Facebook and RSS. In 2011, none of the above makes Premier Guitar unique.

What Peter did that was truly disruptive in a consumer special-interest marketplace, was to make the full 200+ page magazine available for free. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Premier Guitar, the digital edition, is absolutely free.

Legacy guitar magazine publishers must hate Peter deeply. By making his digital edition absolutely free, Peter has ripped by all the existing legacy titles to create a brand with a larger audience and a larger advertising market share than any of his competitors.

Today, Premier Guitar is also available as a print magazine. But Peter and his team sell sponsorships to the combined print and digital editions. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the digital edition has the far larger audience.

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The future of digital magazine strategy

As digital magazines will soon be as commonplace as media websites, is there a Peter Sprague lurking in your market? If you live in a market where your audience has high spending power for an easily defined group of niche products, the answer to the above question is almost certainly “yes.”

If your answer is affirmative, I suggest you spend some time studying what Peter Sprague has been building for the last five years. Every media pyramid is unique. However, in my humble opinion, portals, blogs, and e-mail newsletters are things you should absolutely be publishing and giving away for free. I say this without regard to your business model. As my friend Ed Coburn says, “every publisher is selling something, the question is, what are they selling?”

Audience development critical for every Internet business model

Building a large affinity audience is critical to any successful online publishing effort. Whether you intend to drive traffic to your own magazines, newsletters, online store, or event registration, or you intend to help sponsors build their brands and drive traffic to their websites, the guy with the biggest audience usually wins.

By making access to the digital edition of Premier Guitar absolutely free, Peter has upped the free content ante. His digital edition is a primary audience driver. So, as we enter the age of digital magazines, perhaps you should consider whether your digital magazine should be free or paid. Or perhaps you might employ an even more complex strategy, which involves a free, light edition and a paid premium edition flying the same brand flag. You need look no further than the Apple App Store to find thousands of publishers using this strategy successfully.

One final bit of advice

I’m old enough now to have witnessed, some might say facilitated, several cycles of economic disruption inside the media industry. Patrick J McGovern, chairman of IDG, taught me this: if someone is going to disrupt your market, let it be you.


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