In an effort to monetize its online content, IDG Germany in 2000 “gated” about 25% of the content for German versions of Macworld.com and PCWorld.com, and started charging users $52 (U.S.) for full access to the websites.
The audiences were not happy with the move.
“It took us a year to say "that was probably not the greatest idea since the invention of sliced bread,' so we changed the model,” said Stephan Scherzer, VP-general manager, online at Macworld (U.S.), who was group publisher, Consumer Group, IDG Germany.
IDG dismantled the firewalls and proceeded to introduce a premium service offering subscribers access to special features and archived material, and for advertisers, new types of sponsorships. The switch paid off. “We added a substantial line of additional revenue to the [Macworld.com and PCWorld.com properties]” in Europe, Scherzer said.
IDG is now betting that this online model—with adjustments for the U.S. market—will be able to cross the pond.
In September, Macworld.com (U.S.) rolled out a premium website service called Macworld Insider. In the first week, Insider generated 1,000 subscribers, Scherzer said.
The annual membership fee to Insider is $39.95 for new subscribers and $19.95 for print subscribers. The service features a custom layout option for Macworld.com with no display advertising, live chats with Macworld editors and writers, and a free floor pass to Macworld 2011. Subscribers to Insider also get access to full-text RSS feeds of all Macworld content and a PDF archive of past Macworld issues. Each PDF is iPhone- and iPad-compatible.
“In each audience, there is 1% to 5% [of readers] willing to pay for servicers and products because they trust your brand,” Scherzer said. “They love your brand, they want to support it and be part of a premium community.”
Insider is one the first instances of a business publisher adding a subscription service to its website rather than relying solely on advertising, which remains the norm among b-to-b media companies.
“If you "gate' content, you're going to lose traffic,” Scherzer said. “If you don't gate content, but add services, functionality and conveniences, then you don't lose traffic on your main site.”
Terrance McDermott, media director at b-to-b ad agency Slack Barshinger, said it would be a challenge to sell Insider. “If people believe [all] content should be free, then why should they pay for it?” he said. “There's always the possibility that another publication offers similar content, even if less quality, for free.”
McDermott added, however, “that if it's possible to advertise in a less-cluttered environment [Insider] would be terrific for b-to-b advertisers.”
IDG is promoting Insider via Macworld (225,000 circ.) and Macworld.com, which in September had 5.5 million unique monthly visitors, according to Omniture. IDG is also plugging Insider on Facebook and Twitter. Separately, Jason Snell, VP-editor in chief of Macworld, tweets about the benefits of Insider to his (as of late September) 15,489 followers on Twitter.
UBM TechWeb, a division of United Business Media, is also developing alternative ways to deliver its content to drive new revenue. Take Black Hat Uplink, which rolled out in July and is an online companion to UBM TechWeb's Black Hat, a series of technical-information security conferences.
Access to the link, with selected content from Black Hat events, cost $395 for 90 days following the live event, said David Berlind, chief content officer of UBM Tech Web. Attending the live events cost between $1,500 and $2,500, depending on what's included in the package.
Berlind said that since its introduction, Black Hat Uplink “has exceeded our expectations” on revenue, but would not be more specific. So far, 85% of the consumption of Black Hat Uplink has been via the on-demand version, Berlind said. “It cuts to the need to make content available on [users'] terms.”