Having an attractive free offering and building a large non-paying user base as first steps to building a large paying user base is a theme that has been running through a number of Fred Wilson’s posts recently – and so it was again at the weekend when he wrote Monetize The Audience, Not The Content.
I’m going to pick out two quick quotes.
First – on the absurdity of putting only some of the content behind a paywall:
The worst examples of subscription services are those that break the content up into free and paid. It’s as if some content is worth more than other content.
And second, on the merit of making the whole site open and asking only heavy users to pay (a model the FT has had for a while):
[The FT] model recognizes a few fundamental facts about the internet. First, you need to make your content available for search engines and social media linking. That drives as much as half or more of the visits these days. And if you have an ad model at all, and most newspapers do, then you need those visits and that audience.
Its also true that the ‘drive by’ visits will bring new audiences, some of whom will become loyal and ultimately paid audience members.
Most newspapers are struggling with profitability online and thinking about introducing charging, with many proprietors musing publicly about the question. One of the obstacles is the fear that the first news site to crack and begin charging will haemorrhage traffic to those that don’t – adopting the FT’s model doesn’t carry that risk.