A Look at Ways for Monetizing Digital Content

Can the airline industry’s business model help publishers?

Discussions on the difference between free and paid content is a popular topic lately.

On paidContent.org, the discussion included an approach based on the airline industry’s business model: “economy class” and “business class”.

The analogy, mentioned in a recent article by Victor Wong, CEO of PaperG, states; “airplanes take everyone to the same place, yet some people are willing to pay much more for a better experience.”

Business class vs. economy class

For all publishers, there will always be some audience members more interested and engaged with content. Those “business class” members will likely pay much more than the “economy class”. In Wong’s example, he cites the Miami Herald, where 1% of its visitors account for 10% of all visits to the newspaper. Each of these truly interested users is worth $120/year in digital advertising revenue.

The other 99% of visitors are worth $11 per user each year.

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Business class

According to Wong, the $120 per year is the minimum that should be charged to truly interested readers in this scenario. The New York Times, for instance, is charging $195 per year for regular digital access and up to $455 per year for digital access through all web-enabled devices.

In exchange for a premium price, Wong suggests paying users receive the following:

-Enhanced Readability: Reducing ads and alleviating design elements strictly used for marketing would create a cleaner feel.

-Superior Design: Similar to enhancing readability, aesthetics should be top-notch. Well-optimized mobile editions could be made available to paying users as well.

-Human Touch: Incorporating more “human-made” recommendations from knowledgeable writers and editors will create better opportunities for interaction. Wong suggests that this personal interaction could be made available privately through websites or social networks.

-Social Status: Involving the most loyal users by offering special privileges keep them happy while likely receiving additional promotion from these users.

Economy class

Those not willing to pay should still receive a good experience, or they will look for content elsewhere. A good experience may also help generate transactions.

-Ads: Better ads need to be used. Displaying useful information or using new ad formats may resonate with visitors the most.

-Registration: Registration should be required for visitors returning the site multiple times. This would give a better opportunity to publishers for offering higher promotional experiences to advertisers while establishing a line of communication with non-paying visitors.

Will more publishers adopt this strategy in the future? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And for more on this topic, take a look at the article from paidContent.org.


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