Backwards golf and how to make money from online publishing

I had an interesting couple of pints with some of the clever digital PR folks at Edelman last night. We discussed the irony of a print magazine about social media, the fun to be had in playing golf courses backwards (tee-off from the first but aim at the 18th green – sounds entertainingly dangerous!) and finally, the long-term decline of advertising.

As regular readers of my blog will know this is a theme I’ve touched on before.  In this recession trade titles are suffering from the slump in ad spend. They always do – but I’m not convinced that by 2011 ad spend in print will be back where it was in 2007. Marketers are putting more and more of their ad spend online. They’re increasingly convinced that it is more targeted, more trackable, and crucially, cheaper.

Marketers expect to spend less on online ads. This is a big problem for publications that rely on advertising for their revenue – which is almost all of them. If their ad revenue falls how can they continue to make a profit? Sure, they can save money on print and distribution, but still, for the majority the equation won’t add up.

The only way they can plug this revenue shortfall is to persuade readers to pay for content.

And yet we know this won’t work. In the early days of the web, publishers learnt very quickly that people will not pay for content. We expect the Internet to be free.

And this is where last night – well into our Staropramen – we came up with a good idea.

It’s based on two initial premises:

1) People’s expectation of the quality of online content has risen in the past decade – we have become more adept at sorting through the online waffle to find what is genuinely useful/interesting to us

2) People are now much more comfortable with paying for things online than they were ten years ago

So, while in 1999 paid-for content might have been a non-starter, that doesn’t mean that it still is in 2009.

Then the third, crucial, premise is:

3) People don’t subscribe to content online, not because they’re not willing to pay for it, but because they can’t be bothered with all the hassle. They know they’ll have to go thorugh half a dozen pages of form-filling, they’ll have to find their credit card details, they might be signing up to a long-term deal they can’t get out of, and then the site might go down meaning it was a waste of five minutes. Five minutes might not sound like a lot, but when we’re looing for information online we expect to receive it immediately.

So, here’s the idea we came up with……

You buy credits in advance and then buy content simply by clicking a button, and paying £1, 50p, 25p, 10p even, for that specific article. It would be a simple application that every publisher could add to their sites so there became one instant, low commitment way for people to pay for content. It would be like the Oyster card of online publishing. Or iTunes for written content.

Great idea or just the Staropramen talking?

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2 Responses to “Backwards golf and how to make money from online publishing”

  1. Simon Sanders Says:

    Have thought of this before. Rather than buy advance credit – through one newspaper site – use of a site like TipJoy (or other micro-payment system) might be the way. i.e. you register your credit card with them (like you do with PayPal) and then in one or two clicks from any website a user can buy the article. Each article / page / slide-show can carry a price whether it be 5p or 50p. You could even offer – I would think – a time-based payment e.g. £1 for x minutes access?

  2. Celia Dixon Says:

    I think it’s an interesting idea but in all honesty unless there was a universal ban on free content so that the big players including BBC, Sky News, The Telegraph and so on all engaged on such a payment model it’s just not going to work. And I can just imagine the politics, I mean not everyone is online to make money. Granted a large proportion of people are, but bloggers and general tech/digital enthusiasts will just continue to leak news online and no there’s Twitter. When it comes to TV programmes if they started to charge (minimally) for that then I think that it could work, although you could argue that weve mastered watching a few adverts in return for TV now heven’t we?

    On the whole I cant help feeling that this would still be a bit backwards alltogether and I also think that through fear of failure businesses just won’t make the plunge.

    On a separate note, I think there’s an option for Lovefilm or Blockbusters etc to start charging people to watch films online though, new and old releases there’s definitely a market there.

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