A variety of tactics can help publishers prepare their audiences for paid content
Variety magazine debuted in 1905; 93 years later, it was joined by its Web site. Variety.com was one of the first sites to try to charge for online content. By 2006, however, it had abandoned that plan and had started giving away all its content to any online Tom, Dick and Henrietta.
Now, however, Variety is rejoining the ranks of paid content. This year, everything on the site goes behind a pay wall—except the home page, headlines, brief article summaries and the search function.
“The Variety model is very simple: You pay once and you get everything,” said Variety Group President Neil Stiles. “You'll need to pay for a full subscription to Variety to access any of its editorial content.”
Shutting down the freebies may come as a shock to Variety.com freeloaders, but that's a sensation they will need to start getting used to. More and more, digital content is falling in the paid category.
McGraw-Hill Cos.' ENR.com, the site for Engineering News-Record, has been restricting full access to paid subscribers for about five years, according to Maurice Persiani, VP-business services. Current news can be read for free on the site, but access to special reports and archived data is only available by subscription.
“The trick is to drive traffic to the site with newsletters, alerts, SEO and the print magazine. Once there, visitors will likely find areas of interest that require a subscription,” Persiani said.
Rebecca McPheters, president of consultantcy McPheters & Co., recommended that publishers approach the idea of building online audiences by using some of the tools at hand, such as advertising and couponing.
McPheters said couponing can help gain trials, adding that a free trial of a product is another good way to get new subscribers. Discounts for specific iterations of content, such as those designed for the iPad, can also help, she said.
Jessica Clifton, product manager at Billian Publishing, also suggested a free trial to win a purchase, either via temporary access or a partial subscription. “You want a quality audience, one that will keep coming back because they realize the value of your digital subscription,” she said. “It will result in stronger renewals and upgrades to more advanced products.”
At Access Intelligence, John Rockwell, VP-marketing and e-media, said his company is attempting to track all customer behavior. “Our job now is to understand the customer's behavior and be there when they are ready to purchase. You want to create a frictionless e-commerce experience.”
Rockwell said it's easy to engage a user digitally by providing good content that they can test, kick around and comment on before purchasing. He added that publishers should also be mindful of all the ways they are not engaging the audience. “There are so many missed opportunities to cross-sell in confirmation e-mails alone,” he said. “You need to constantly be offering something new and different.”
But if a customer is going to be flooded with anything from Access Intelligence, it will be content, Rockwell said. “New things to sample, insider information that we don't give to other people—buried in that will be special offers,” he said. “It should feel like a seamless experience. We're trying to do less solicitation and more conversation.”
Audience developers should avoid thinking that they are selling one element and begin to think of selling an integrated product and “expanding the customer's engagement with your brand,” Rockwell said. First, he said, a customer may come in by signing up for a free e-newsletter, but “they grow to engage with your content on many levels,” he said. “This takes the form of buying more access, new types of content, etc.” Eventually, you can offer the client an all- inclusive package. M