The world of online journalism and news content today is going through a tumultuous phase. While the amount of content produced seems to be growing exponentially, the number of readers who are willing to pay for news content seems to be stagnating or even dropping. What can online news publishers do to get subscribers to pay for news content what should they keep in mind when doing so?
Myth 1: Offering a free subscription is the only way to build a strong online community.
Digital subscriptions are an essential part of a publication’s growth. They have changed the way newspapers work, and all online news publications today feel the need for them. Online publications started offering free news content as the primary resource in exchange for free subscriptions to build online communities, after which many started to charge for the service, or for more premium content.
Busting Myth 1:
Although it is essential to grow subscriptions to create a strong online community, it isn’t necessary that this model needs to be completely free. Publications now offer a combination of free and gated content. Some news sources are completely paywalled and some have started to explore Micropayments – a way to get subscribers to quickly and easily pay for a particular article, report or resource that they enjoyed reading rather than an entire subscription.
Online services like Blendle now exist to help publishers get together and following the iTunes model. The essential takeaway here is: If you can do something well, don’t do it for free. Online publishers can giveaway free resources and reports to audiences to keep them engaged and loyal – but you need to motivate audiences to pay for the core product.
Myth 2: Millennials don’t want to pay for content
The millennial generation – the largest in America and the most digitally native – is definitely hated on for many reasons, one of them being how they take online journalism and news for granted, not seeing the point behind paying for such a resource. Although 40% of millennials use smartphones and digital outlets to read their news – their inclination to give back has never been lower.
Busting Myth 2:
The truth is, the millennials that we love to hate do pay for content. The sad part is that they would probably prefer to pay for Netflix over news. However, it isn’t all bad. According to a survey by the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Older millennials, especially above the ages of 21 are more likely than younger Millennials to pay out of their own pocket for news (roughly 45 percent over age 21 vs. 23 percent age 18-21). The other promising figure is that in all, 87 percent of Millennials personally pay for some type of subscription or other paid service, including news or entertainment services.
This means that newspapers need to learn the language of millennials and create content that is more engaging and entertaining, even if it is on hard news. Interactive content, motion graphics and video are all great mediums to use to get subscribers to see value in their investment. Digital news providers need also need to help millennials understand the consequences of losing sources of ethical, sustainable journalism and news content today – since they are a generation that is apparently ‘motivated by causes.’ maybe this will offer some perspective.
Myth 3: Things that were once free are always expected to be free, so paid news content will decline
Newspapers went digital and offered so much of their content for free, so how can they expect readers to pay for it now? This might sound sensible in a ‘it has always been this way, so this is how it must be’ way. Yet, it totally ignores the fact that news providers, like any other industry have staff to pay, a technology stack to keep upgraded and plenty of other operational costs.
Busting Myth 3: Not every service that was once free still is. Plenty of services and products we use today were offered free of had free components that have now ceased to exist. A couple of decades ago, an airline ticket meant a certain baggage allowance, travelling kits, meals and more. Today? No frills airlines offer you the most basic service: a seat to your destination. Everything else is an add on, and consumers get to pick and choose what they need. In the year 1998, KeyBank actually paid its customers 25 cents to use an ATM rather than come to the bank. Now? ATMs across the world charge users a transaction fee. In 2014, customers paid an average of $4.35 for every transaction they made outside their banking network. It isn’t impossible to get subscribers to pay for your content if they see value and differentiation in your offerings.
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In the hands of your audience
Eventually, the question of whether subscription or freemium based models will work well enough for digital news publishers to be able to provide sustained, quality journalism is still unanswered. While publishers can make the best of technology available today to provide personalized content recommendations and dynamic content to engage readers better, if readers do not see the importance that journalism plays in a healthy democracy, more focus needs to be given to what the future of digital journalism will be like and how it can evolve to keep up.