The Do’s and Don’ts of Free in Multiplatform Publishing

multiplatform publishing

In multiplatform publishing, you give away a lot for free — but when should you draw the line and how do you make the transition?

What’s “free” to the naked eye isn’t exactly free in multiplatform publishing. It costs money to produce a product, even when it’s recycled. And for the user, they pay either with their eyeballs and data on an ad-driven site, or with their email address on a product-driven site.

Just think of all the “free” that you give away on your website:

  • Free articles
  • Free videos
  • Free eBook downloads
  • Free premium articles in front of a metered paywall
  • Free library previews

It wasn’t free to produce, so why are publisher’s in the business of giving so much away?

Giving away different multiplatform products is the best strategy for a publisher – as long as they know how to monetize. Look at Debbie Fields; She opened her first store in Palo Alto, California, and when no one was coming in, she brought free samples outside and walked around giving them out. Now you know her products under the name Mrs. Fields and she has no lack of paying customers or distribution channels.


However, giving away your product only works if you have the architecture in place to turn samplers into buyers. There are three major areas where publishers fail at “free”:

  1. Publishing free articles and videos with no conversion architecture built to capture and retain visitors.
  2. Publishing the same content from the premium magazine online, at the same time, for free.
  3. Offering a metered paywall with too much free content, so the user never needs to subscribe.

And what’s the good in giving everything away like that? By proceeding in that manner, you devalue your premium products, especially magazines, when you re-publish print content on your website without a metered paywall, or any type of conversion architecture.

As Chris Anderson wrote in his book, Free: The Future of Radical Price, “This is one of the negative implications of free. People often don’t care as much about things they don’t pay for, and as a result they don’t think as much about how they consume them. Free can encourage gluttony, hoarding, thoughtless consumption, waste, guilt, and greed. We take stuff because it’s there, not necessarily because we want it. Charging a price, even a very low price, can encourage much more responsible behavior.”

Turning free into paid by leveraging the word “free” in subscription marketing

When you’re selling a subscription and membership, there are three great models of saying “free”:

30 day free trial…

This is the tried and true model, and it resembles the original magazine model that offers a free issue. When you’re selling a membership, instead of a free issue you can offer a 30-day free trial which gives subscribers access to everything for thirty days. But if you think this is the only way to say “free,” think again.

You’ve been gifted… 

Our client Prime Publishing is the originator of this strategy, and several clients have since had similar success with it. An example comes from Yankee, who uses it to sell an all-access pass to their magazine. The subject line reads, “You’ve Been Gifted: 10 Years of Yankee Magazine. The headline inside the email reads, “ACT FAST! Get 10 Years of Yankee Magazine Archives Free.” The copy explains that the reader can get 6 print issues, 6 digital-only issues, full digital access to 10 years of Yankee archives, and  bonus issues only available online. They click a big red “Unlock My Deal” button and are brought to a landing page where the full offer is revealed: 30 days of free trial access for all of the above.

Buy a membership and get all 10 for free…  

In the past we’ve talked about Cabot’s subscription offer, and it’s just one more way of saying “free”. At Cabot, investors can access to all nine of their advisory newsletters for one recurring monthly fee. What’s unique about the offer is how they position it by saying that when a subscriber pays for membership, they get all nine for “free.” As we know, they’re not “free”, they are included in the cost of membership, but it does sound appealing doesn’t it?

The power of the word “free” is undeniable, and you should use it when you can. It might seem like publishers are really based on a freemium model, with so much we give away through daily articles and free downloads, but as long as you are properly monetizing visitors through conversion architecture, and through a strategic email marketing program, it’s the best way to make money online.

If you’re a legacy magazine publisher, schedule a call with a member of our executive team and learn how we can partner with you to build highly profitable subscription products. You supply the content, we supply the marketing and technology, and we jointly share the rewards.


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