Ever since I posted about the Financial Times’ system of metered content, I’ve met with a lot of resistance from people who don’t think the idea has any chance of success.
“Metered content” is the term I use to describe a system where the user-cost of viewing news on your site is based on how much they use it. For example, the Financial Times allows up to 30 articles per month for free, then people must pay for more access.
“The biggest mistake for a newspaper,” they tell me, “is to try to charge readers money. They’ll get pissed off and leave.”
With all due respect, I disagree completely.
Understanding the curve
Most online activity can be charted with a power curve. You might be familiar with it’s other name: the long tail.
You want to chart user participation in Wikipedia? Power curve.
You want to chart how often Amazon sells each item in it’s inventory? Power curve.
You want to chart reader engagement on your newspaper web site? Power curve.
The power curve looks like this, with each individual user along the X axis, and their Time One Site (TOS) on the Y axis.
There is a group of people at the top of this curve who we can safely call your loyal fans. They might be your 1,000 true fans.
That is your paying market. The rest of your audience will pay you with their eyeballs and nothing else. But the people at the top of the power curve clearly identify with your brand. They are an engaged audience, and they are valuable to you.
Faith in your audience
As a newspaper—in fact, as any widely consumed product—you have an established following. There are people who subscribe to your print edition, and there are people that care about your work, and are willing to support your business.
The idea of “free products online” is so prevalent that it’s hard to believe people will pull our their wallets. You can find studies that will tell you what ridiculously high percentage of your online readership would be unwilling to pay for your product.
But here’s the catch: that astronomical number is not 100%.
In other words, there is a statistically significant portion of your online audience that would be willing to support your product – the way to capture the fish but not the dolphins, if you’ll excuse the metaphor, is to meter your content.
Have faith; your fans will support you.
Offer carrots not sticks
“But Jason,” I can hear you saying, “if I take away features that are already available to all my readers, they will rebel!”
I’d be an idiot not to recognize that people often get riled up when they feel as though something is being taken away from them, even if they didn’t use it before. It’s just human psychology.
I can offer two points of advice on this: First, try to offer additional features instead of hiding existing ones behind a pay wall (that means get inventive!), and second, remember that your “metered content” pay wall should only affect the normal browsing behaviors of maybe 10% of your audience.
The vast majority of your audience will continue to use your site as they always have.
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