Commentary

Free? Don't Kid Yourself -- How Publishers Have Gotten Smart About Paid Content

In this post-paid media world, 40% of millennials personally pay for news. What are they paying for? Below, discover how publications are converting, engaging and retaining today’s readers.

FT.com
The Financial Times was among the first publishers to charge B2C. It offers three free articles monthly and lets users subscribe to the FT app instead of purchasing—avoiding paying Apple for transactions.

FT uses relevant moments to build subscribers. During Brexit, a major financial event for the U.K., the newspaper opened its paywall, yielding a 600% rise in digital subscriptions. While its average readership age is 50, 20% are millennials. Its high engagement rate enhances attractiveness to advertisers.

NYTimes.com
The New York Times offers reduced rates for students, along with bundles and “buy one get one free,” through which subscription buyers can give one away. The newspaper is also smart about product diversification. Its crossword Stand Alone grossed $2 million in Q1 revenue!

64% of Times readers are under 40,while 32% are millennials. Its content metering—10 free articles monthly—seems generous, but a meter lets people try content. Even if readers visit your site monthly without buying, you’re ensured continual inventory for advertisers. That’s the beauty of this tactic.

The Times.co.uk
The Times sells freshness. This British paper offers welcome vouchers (worth $92), membership, collaborations, subscriptions and trials. All content older than seven days is released, free.

New customers can register to unlock two articles they choose. Collaborations are intelligently chosen. One partner is Spotify, whose under-40 demographic is a nice match for the Times, 75% of whose readers are under 50.

55%-60% of readers subscribe—up 40% to 45 % in five years, thanks to multiple recurring revenue streams.

The Economist.com
The average reader for this weekly magazine (and daily digital content) is 39, and 87% of users subscribe. It offers two free articles weekly (what it calls a “shot of journalism”), and an introductory 12 weeks for $12.

35% of millennials grab their smartphones first in the morning, and the pub’s Espresso app has been downloaded over 1 million times! Users get 5 recommended daily stories of about 120 words, engaging them with “snackable” content. The more engaged users are, the more they renew.

Bild.de
Germany’s biggest newspaper, with a daily paper, a Sunday edition, an online/mobile daily, and an app, has 39 million global readers. Bild supports print circulation via promo coupons, which let people read the digital version free on purchase day. It’s a new way to engage print readers: get them to transition online, versus pitching those already there. Paid articles are on the rise: 20% are paid, and 80% are free.

L’Equipe.fr & Winnipeg Free Press
Let’s talk about a couple of clients, to see how they leverage paid content. L’Equipe, a French sports publication whose average reader is 37 years old, has models for light use (micropayments) and heavy (monthly subscriptions). It also offers free trials to AdBlock users!

Another micropayment user is the Winnipeg Free Press, whose digital subscription is $16.99; alternatively, people pay $0.27/article. Users can refund themselves if they wish.

Micropayments are smart: Millennials seek à la carte access that puts them in control. Paying a few cents per article provides revenue from people uninterested in recurring subscriptions.

Winnipeg used a year of data to determine the best model, settling on a fixed subscription and micropayments, which match millennials’ shift to OTTs. (Why pay for cable when you can pay less for Amazon Prime or Netflix?) It also proves you don’t need to be a major market newspaper to charge for content.

For every publisher, there are many paid content strategies. Get creative to learn what works: A/B test in real time — and share what you’ve learned.

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