The notion that readers won’t pay for news is a myth. Local publishers around the country are finding that readers are willing to pay for access to premium content.
According to research by the Media Insight Project, an initiative by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 53% of adults already pay for news and 26% of those who use a source for free would be “at least somewhat likely” to pay for it if they were asked.
Local news websites that publish compelling, original content have a valuable product, and yet oftentimes that product is being given away to readers for free.
Coverage of a specific topic is the No. 1 reason why people start subscribing to news sources, according to the Media Insight Project. This is a particularly important point for hyperlocal publishers, because in many communities their websites are the only sources of truly local news. In these towns, readers are showing that they are willing to pay for access to content and information that’s unavailable anywhere else.
Publishers who have found the most success in using premium content to generate revenue are following these three basic rules.
Rule #1: The content must be incredible.
In order to justify the price tag, publishers should make sure their premium content is compelling, original, and valuable to readers. It isn’t enough to have information that readers can’t find elsewhere on the web—although that is important, too. Publishers must package their premium content in a way that makes it irresistible to readers. That means including infographics, images, and videos whenever possible.
Look at The Atlantic. The Atlantic isn’t the only publisher covering politics, business, culture, and technology, but the company has found a niche in publishing the type of thoughtful, long form journalism that readers can’t get anywhere else. The Atlantic’s digital-only subscription cost $24.50 per year, which is the same as its print-only subscription.
Rule #2: Premium content can be a commodity.
When most people think of premium content, they think of paywalls. That’s for good reason. The majority of publishers with premium content utilize a subscription model that requires readers to pay on a monthly or yearly basis for access to articles. But premium content isn’t just about dollars and cents. Or rather, it isn’t about that directly.
Publishers with membership models or subscription models can also trade premium content in exchange for valuable data about readers. The Economist is a great example of an outlet that does this. The Economist sells a digital-only subscription that costs $12 for 12 weeks, as an introductory price. But readers who haven’t become paying subscribers can still read three articles per week when they sign up to receive free daily newsletters.
It might look like The Economist is giving away content for free, but in exchange, the publisher is getting into its readers’ inboxes each day. Within those emails, publishers can target readers with paid ads and additional solicitations to sign up for paid subscriptions.
Rule #3: It can pay to give away something for free.
Readers need to know what they’re missing. Hiding all of the best content behind a paywall will make a publication stagnant, which is why most hyperlocal publishers using premium content models are inclined to give some content away for free.
The sweet spot here is pinpointing the exact number of articles or amount of content that it takes to persuade a reader to pay for more. Many digital publishers let readers access a certain numbers of articles for free each month before putting up a paywall. The New York Times, for example, lets readers access 10 free articles per month. Many hyperlocal publishers have dropped that number to three.
The Ken is an independent site that publishes one original article from India every weekday. The Ken gives away four stories per month. For anything beyond that, readers must sign up for paid subscriptions. It’s made clear on The Ken’s website that articles “are not free,” and that the site’s staff puts a lot of effort and resources into its content.
Some publishers don’t feel like giving away a pre-determined number of articles to readers each month is a good value proposition. Instead, these publishers have decided to manually determine which content is “premium” and which content should be accessible to all readers for free. This is the strategy behind local publishers who allow complete access to news and sports articles, while still placing features and opinion stories behind a paywall.
The upside to this strategy is that it’s usually harder for readers to game the system when certain articles are available for free and others are available only paying subscribers. The downside to this strategy is that a site’s best content—the very content that’s most likely to inspire readers to sign up for more—is usually locked away behind a paywall. That’s not a great practice from a reader acquisition standpoint.
If you’re interested in learning more about the latest premium content strategies, feel free to reach out to us for more information.