How to start with a paid content strategy?

10 Jun, 2020 - 7 minutes read
How to start with a paid content strategy?

Paid content is booming. News publishers should have a paid content strategy. The reason why is simple: readers understand the value of digital content and are willing to pay for it. Digital subscription models, such as Netflix, Audible, Spotify and co, are more popular than ever. In particular, the younger generation is willing to pay for digital content and the willingness to do so is growing in almost every age group.

For publishers, focusing on paid content ensures a sustainable and future-proof source of income. It is becoming increasingly relevant for a diversified revenue strategy in addition to income from traditional print and advertising.

Especially during the corona crisis, having a multiple revenue strategy has already proved its value, since the distribution across several revenue pillars means more stability for publishers. The fall in print and advertising revenue contrasts with high growth in online news media. During the corona crisis, where the need for information was particularly high, unique visitors, page impressions and digital subscriptions more than doubled. However, the success figures rose steadily even before the crisis.

In this article we show how publishers can benefit from the trend towards digital subscription models. We will explore their growth in popularity and how publishers can start quickly and easily with their own paid content strategy.

1.  How publishers can benefit from digital growth

During the corona crisis, information requirements among users increased significantly, 

and traffic on news sites almost doubled. Unfortunately, these record values ​​are not reflected in advertising revenues. Many companies cut their advertising budgets sharply during the crisis resulting in a drop in advertising sales of up to 80%.

However, news media were already growing in popularity in the months and years before the pandemic hit. This is especially the case with news sites, which provide their readers with added value. Such media have continued to grow digitally.

A survey of how the newspaper industry assesses digital revenue shows that publishers can use it to compensate for declining print revenues within a few years.

Publishers can manage their digital growth efficiently and sustainably by using a paid content strategy.

2. What is paid content and why is it important for publishers?

A paid content strategy helps publishers to monetize digital content. It is an additional channel to generate and diversify revenue. This enables a publisher’s business model to be sustainably supported by several revenue pillars. In case one revenue source collapses a publisher continues to be able to act, supported by the others. This can be achieved through digital subscriptions, and by tracking and understanding user behavior data.

Paid content is necessary in order to be able to offer quality journalism regardless of page impressions and reach. However, paid content is about far more than offering a simple e-paper or a direct transfer of print content to a website. Content that exploits the digital possibilities and is aimed directly at a digital audience works best.

The great advantage of paid content is the ability to understand user behavior. Publishers gain unique insights into the reading habits and preferences of their readers and can thus enter into a personal relationship with them. Personalization works wonders when building a customer relationship. This can be done by a personalized communication strategy or by recommending additional content that the reader is interested in. 

Publishers not only can gain readers who are willing to subscribe, but they can also actively engage readers with tailored offers and lead them to a subscription.

This is the biggest benefit of having a paid content strategy.

3. What does a successful paid content strategy look like?

There is no one magic formula for a successful strategy that all news publishers can employ. Paid content strategies are as individual as the target groups of the publishers. 

However, they all should have in common the ability to build a relationship with their readers. No matter where readers are on the subscription journey. By making the right offer or engaging in communication at the right time, publishers can fast-track readers onto the next step.

Fact. Increasing revenues from digital subscriptions prove that readers are willing to pay for digital offers.

Before a publisher starts to switch to a paid content model, it should be established which paywalls are used.

Publishers who do not yet use a paid content strategy and allow their readers to gain free access to all content should slowly introduce their readers to a payment model in order to not scare them away. The success of such a strategy also depends on how well publishers communicate their value proposition to convince readers to pay for a subscription. After all, readers have been used to accessing online content for free for many years.

4. What types of paid content models are there?

There are various paid content models, including the freemium model. With freemium, free content is placed alongside paid content. All users can read the free content equally. For premium content readers have to pay for it. The paid content usually contains the most interesting background information and is located behind a paywall. The free content usually gives the basic information about a story and triggers the reader’s desire to want more and therefore pay for it.

Zeit Online premium content
An example of premium content in the form of plus articles is Zeit Online.

The metering model has a different approach, it allows the reader to access a certain amount of content or releases content for a set period of time before an access barrier appears. There is no division between free and premium content here. The reader gets a limited first impression of the offer, which should make the decision to subscribe easier.

A combination of the freemium and metering model is also possible. It is called a hybrid model. There is free content in addition to premium content and the reader can access a certain number of premium content as a sample.

When it comes to access barriers, there is not just the hard paywall, which is played out equally for all readers. Dynamic or smart paywalls can adapt to each reader and, depending on their interests, give them a fitting offer at the right time. However, there are also content gates, such as registration walls and data walls, where readers can continue to access free content by registering or providing personal information. Like paywalls, registration walls and data walls can also be combined with a metering or hybrid model.

Or as in this example from the Süddeutsche Zeitung: Readers who use an ad blocker can choose to register and read the content for free, or to uninstall the adblocker.

5. How to start with a successful paid content strategy?

It is important to slowly introduce your readers to a payment model, if you have not yet used a paid content strategy. A registration wall is particularly suitable for this, because the registration will continue to give your readers free access to content. You then have the opportunity to get to know your readers better when they are registered and to communicate with them.

In the long term, this can convert readers into subscribers, since it is much more likely that you will develop a registered reader into a subscriber than an anonymous reader.

What you need is a registration wall and a user login.

We offer this with our Paid-Content Starter Edition. It enables you to create your first paid content strategy quickly and easily.

Getting your readers registered is the beginning of further developing subscriptions. Through doing this you can build up a pool of potential subscribers and create user segments according to content, interests, recurrence frequency, duration, number of actions taken and give offers that are suited to each individual reader.

Readers who log in to access content are also more interested and more connected to your news site. Increasing your reader’s engagement rate is key. It is a crucial factor in convincing your readers to subscribe.

Tips and Reminders for your first paid content strategy

  1. 1. There are no off-the-shelf successful paid content strategies.
  2. 2. Try out what suits your news medium and your target group.
  3. 3. Use a paid content strategy to establish a relationship with your readers.
  4. 4. Slowly introduce your readers to a subscription model.
  5. 5. Use a registration wall that continues to offer readers free access to your content and the opportunity for personal communication.
  6. 6. Create content that interests your readers and leads to a reading habit. This increases the likelihood that your readers will subscribe.
  7. 7. The best time to start with paid content is right now. Ready to get started?
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