The notion that Internet content should always be free is starting to evolve as consumers and business professionals recognize the value in certain types of content and services, and as marketers use advanced data and content management technologies to create more custom experiences.   Mega trends in our industry around content curation, aggregation, mobilization, analytics-driven customization and marketing automation all point to a tipping point which creates opportunity for publishers and marketers to consider new paid content models.

I was lucky to be invited to a panel for the Fulfillment Management Association here in New York City last week where we discussed this opportunity and the challenges in pulling it off.  The panel was ably led by the legendary Shirrel Rhoades, who noted,  “The goal of magazines has always been to entertain, inform and inspire. We no longer consider that as being for singular audiences, or even in singular channels,” he said.  “Now, hyper- personalized experiences are driven by data and aid in customer loyalty and retention,” he said.

Weaning off the dependency on advertising means being dedicated to a retention model, said Pamela Dunaway, Chief Marketing Officer, Weider History Group.  “Special interest publishers are already doing this with content curation and personalization.  We give them more to get them to pay more.”

The dynamic of what to give away rather than charge for has been a topic of debate at Harvard Business Review, said group publisher Joshua Macht.    “We test  to identify give aways that don’t substitute for paid content,” he says.  The results have been impressive – about 40% of HBR subscribers pay extra for “all access” subscriptions – which include many products that are also priced a la carte.   The engagement of these subscribers is worth breaking internal business unit silo’s, he says.  “We had to look at behavior between channels,” he says.  “Time spent online, on a device and with the magazine varies greatly, and all have different value equations for subscribers.  Our offerings now combine the best offerings”

Shirrel likened this to an updated version of the razor-razor blades strategy.  Give away something of high value to earn an annuity purchase and brand loyalty.

We’d all love to market to rabid fans, and The Street is a great success story.  Chairman and CEO Elisabeth DeMarse said that there are as many Street fans as there are hockey fans!  “Those niche relationships are an important part of the paid content opportunity ” she says.  “We take a ‘lean forward’ approach to subscription packaging, and earn significantly higher revenue from subscriptions than we do from advertising.”

Gleaning intelligence from the readership data is also huge factor in how Weider has increased the paid subscriber base, Pamela says.  She has used regression analysis to assign  a score to every subscriber, and then to tailor  outreach, offers and renewal strategies.  “We don’t send a direct mail piece, we invite them to subscribe,” she says.  “We are very selective in who comes into the funnel, and so our loyalty is higher and our renewals are up.”


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