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Balancing Information and Monetization

Some thoughts on monetizing the web.

One of the many ways in which newspapers are failing online is in monetization. We have very few options, when you get down to it.

  1. Ads
  2. Subscriptions
  3. Donations

No company can really survive off donations, so the question really becomes how do we balance ads and subscriptions? Many newspapers have tried the simple tracking method of allowing people to read X number of articles before informing the reader they have to pay. Others throw up splash ads before the article is posted. And another one shows only some of the article before requiring registration.

They’re all problematic.

Users ignore the ads, they don’t register, and they walk away instead of reading. The issue for the user is that they want as few barriers as possible between themselves and the news. They want to pick an article, click the link, and read. To be inundated with ads and signup popups is annoying, and I suspect the attrition rate is abysmal.

This only gets worse when ads get ‘clever’ and make it hard to find the X to click out and get away from them. They trick users into clicking the wrong thing, which only annoys them more. Plus ads can slow things down on mobile, which is increasingly the way for things to go.

Recently I caught myself thinking that one way to encourage registrations in WordPress would be to have the post content ‘disappear’ after X days, unless the user was a member. Of course, that wouldn’t work for all sites, as not everyone wants to register on People.com. Also the old, archival news on The New York Times are things that really only the deep diving researchers (and weird net denizens) are after. Considering we can all go to the library and look everything old up on Microfiche, why do we have to pay for everything old?

So what should be limited?

How about we start with that cesspool of the internet: Comments. This is a double edged sword. If you allow open comments on a news site, consider requiring registration for them. This will allow you to more easily track and ban assholes. Sure, they can make new accounts, but in doing so you can follow them and block them. A win for everyone. Also you can track people who false-report bad people. Spam catchers will stop most bots from signing up at all.

In addition, you can turn off comments for older posts to non-paying users. After 45 days, only paid up members can comment. And make sure you don’t offer refunds if the guidelines are violated. If haters are gonna hate, make ’em pay for it.

Aaron Jorbin - Haters Gonna Hate
Aaron Jorbin – Haters Gonna Hate (by Helen)

As for what content to restrict, it has to be more granular than just time. Take an election year. All articles about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should be readable. But read-only. No comments on any of them. Be realistic. Someone famous dies? Unlock all their posts so everyone can read all about them. The Olympics should have historical, important, events unlocked, but at the same time you don’t need every little detail.

This would be a tremendous amount of work, don’t get me wrong, but the days of assuming the internet is free money are long over. If we want people to pay us for content, we have to make it worthwhile.

5 replies on “Balancing Information and Monetization”

it’s certainly a very unique thing to think about, but on the face of it, doesn’t sound very promising that people will pay for commenting alone. For one, as it is people (the kind that you want to post) comment, do less comments because of the social experience.

I mean, let’s take an example here (though it’s a very niche blog). If I post a comment here and some frustrated person comes and trolls me, whom I don’t event know or care about. I would want to expose myself less and less.

Again you might do good amounts of moderation and remove those kinds, but most portals have seriously bad moderators, if any. Then you want me to pay for that kinda experience?

What people, even I, rather do these days, is to pull that link in the social network(s) of my choice and start the conversation upon it there, in the comfort and relevance of people I know and actually care about. That is what should be chargeable or monetized, if that is possible. But as we know, from the giants, neither of them pays for the content creators.

Big media houses have dragged search engines (even social media I believe) to court, for freely using their copyrighted content… only to realise that they have no choice. The main traffic was search engines first and social media now.

Basically, only those who’ve had a healthy community on their portals, rewarding loyal readers by providing them a better environment to engage in have survived. Most others have either given up or flooded their property with click happy ads. After all they need to earn, somehow.

Best is to make and sustain a community, giving them things for return of asking them money. Saying this is 1000 times easier than doing it, but then again, that’s how the future looks from here. Unless of course, some major tech break through happens!

@Gorakh Sirsikar: Users don’t want to pay now. The question is what kind of site you want to run, what you’re asking people to pay for, and what quality you can give them in return.

Asking them to donate is about as useful as ads. You will not make money. So ask yourself what you’re offering and how to make it worth paying.

This is a start of an idea anyway. A different way to approach something we know is failing.

@Ipstenu (Mika Epstein): Completely agree with you and hence had started my comment with “it’s certainly a very unique thing to think about”… and have my doubts based only a quick first evaluation and hence, “but on the face of it, doesn’t sound very promising”.

From what I make out of the conversation, I believe we’re saying the same things, except in different words. “Making Something Worth Paying For”, you say comments might be an idea, I say community (which is based on commenting).

What we need is also a new way to look at this engagement on the creators’ websites, unlike what Facebook and Twitter and now perhaps Whatsapp are cashing in upon – Social Conversations around articles/links/images/videos/etc. basically content that we discover!

I am owner of few information website. You are right on the point. Paid Subscription also does not work much for mid to small publication, not everyone is NYT, so for others it’s even harder to survive, but high-quality content is costly, writer-journalist needs to be paid well. Last few years was good time for affiliation, from Amazon to hosting to even Apple Store, but that’s also becoming slower as most site don’t pay for returning buyers, and guess what, most people already have account on all important site. So, I am thinking for a while for a WordPress plugin, that will let people hide ads, and give a better reading ability by paying micro-subscription, for say just pay a buck for 2 days, or something very simple, and there could be also option for bigger subscription, and when people get good experience, find the value they are more likely to continue, if you make good content. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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