FIPP’s Hewitt Declares Paid Versus Free Websites Battle to Be Over

A year ago, free vs. paid was the big debate of the FIPP Digital Magazine Conference. This year, the battle is over: free wins

Mike HewittMike Hewitt, the returning moderator for the second annual FIPP Digital Magazine Media Conference, looks a bit like a prize-fighter and has the feisty attitude to match. In an exclusive chat before the start of Day 3, Hewitt told Mequoda that the battle to decide if magazine websites would offer free or paid content was over.

Last year it was the topic of the conference. All the 2008 speakers, which included Mequoda’s own Don Nicholas, seem to agree that 99 percent of magazine websites will use free content to drive up their online audience and make money selling a combination of premium priced brand advertising and lower cost pay-for-performance advertising.

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Even online publishers who sell their own magazine subscriptions, books, events and other products have grasped that having the biggest possible online audience in their niche is the key to online publishing success. Hewitt pointed out that pure-play websites, not magazine brands, hold the top spots in every special-interest niche. There was a time when special-interest magazines, their live events and their direct mail lists where the only cost-effective means to reach most special-interest markets – and magazine publishers dominated all three media.

The Web has changed that forever and less-than-a-decade old websites now dominate user media time in niche after niche. “The pure-plays have set the rules and we’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” said Hewitt. As magazines wake to the challenge of building #1 websites in the niches they once owned, free online content has become one clear strategy for an industry struggling to reacquire the dominance they took for granted a little too long.

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