A few years back, I wrote a post titled Top 5 Things I’ll Pay for on the Web. (Still brilliant, I know.)
By this point, I would have expected that the pay model for content would have changed, but for the most part, it has not. The web remains mostly free and will probably remain that way for quite some time.
There has been, however, an interesting shift in the tablet world. First the Kindle and then the iPad have nudged people along to pay for content. It’s not a mass movement, but it is a step in the direction where content creators can eventually charge something for their content. As such, content strategy will need to evolve to reflect this slow evolution back toward paid content.
Back when I got my first Kindle, there was a small, but growing library of ebooks. Many were free, some were as inexpensive as 99 cents, and others were around $9.99. It wasn’t a bad price for content, especially for those 99 cent books. Downloading and payment was easy, so the barrier to purchasing new content was low.
As part of that initial launch, The New York Times on Kindle offered both subscriptions and instant downloads. For only 99 cents, I could buy the current issue of the New York Times. The Kindle web browser was rather clunky at that time, so 99 cents for the complete New York Times seemed reasonable.
Flash forward a few years and the iPad has iBooks, an app that serves as a magazine rack. Popular mainstream magazines are available for subscription or download. Some of that same content is available on the web, and the iPad has an excellent web browser, but consuming it as designed, packaged content is really appealing.
Certain magazines stand out. Wired, for example, offers a multimedia experience that truly enhances the content. Best of all, if you subscribe to the print magazine, the iPad version is free (for now). Totally worth it.
Another magazine is Champion! magazine. (Disclosure: I know some of the people who produce this magazine.) If you are a comic book fan, it is like Wizard magazine…only fully interactive. Great pop culture journalism supported by beautiful design and clever multimedia enhancements. This particular publication is free (for now) and like catnip for comic book fans.
How it Relates to Content Strategy
Like most content created for the web, it is assumed that everything is going to be free. We know now that this is unlikely to last forever. There just aren’t enough advertising dollars to keep all content creators afloat.
For content creators, this time can’t come soon enough. There is a need among many publishers to generate income from the content they create. How long can you produce content with the hope that you will eventually attract enough readers to eventually attract advertisers? Unfortunately, the answer is often “not long enough.”
The iTunes store lowered the barrier to paying for music online. There’s still plenty of piracy and “sharing,” but there are also people willing to plunk down 99 cents for a song. That’s music to the ears of the music industry.
The publishing industry is hoping that the content they create will offer similar value to consumer, so that they are willing to start plunking down cash for content. The New York Times and other premier content creators are likely to lead this revolution in paid content.
Currently the playing field in content creation is still (somewhat) flat. Looking forward, content will become fragmented. Large institutional paid content sites must offer compelling reasons for paying for news and features. Bloggers and other independent sites are likely to remain free. After all, there are people like me who write blogs for many different reasons. Income isn’t always one of the reasons.
Looking forward, content will need to be formatted for multiple digital platforms. In the case of print publications like Wired, it is going to be formatted for print, web, iPad, Kindle, and whatever other device comes along. Publishers at this level are formatting their content to be device and platform agnostic. But they are also planning, formatting, and incorporating multimedia features that may be platform specific.
For example, the iPad does not run Flash in the browser, but the Kindle Fire does. This means that the experience on iPad may be different than the Kindle. Wired is a publication that will probably have the resources to offer a consistent experience across platforms, but smaller publications may need to consider if their content management system (CMS) can scale their multimedia effectively.
What It Means for Content Creators
For everyone else, similar principles apply. That is, if you create a website, blog, or just general marketing materials online, you must consider how people will consume it. In most cases, you will not be able to charge for your content, especially if you are generating marketing messages.
However, when content does cost money, users will be interested in getting a mix of paid and free content. If everything costs money, free seems more special by comparison.
As part of your content strategy, consider your individual content and your complete content ecosystem will exist in a world of paid content. It’s important to think beyond the walls of your website.
If you’ve thought about how your content will look on an iPad or Kindle Fire, good for you. Now you should consider how your app will look sitting next to another app in the iTunes Store. This is the new newsstand.
The rules of content creation and content strategy are evolving in many ways. Platforms and multimedia options are opportunities to engage users with rich experiences. The coming revolution in paid content will change the way people collect and consume content.
Even free content needs to be valuable to the user.