Is Paid Content The Coming Thing?

image Recently a friend pointed me to this article, about free versus paid blog content, which I found quite interesting.  The same guiy has been thinking about some of his online efforts and he asked ny advice about the possibility of turning one or more of his successful properties into paid sites.  here’s part of his question and my response:

… Right now, FREE is kind of the mantra of the web.  I have been seeing signs, and reading articles lately, though, that make me feel that the free days may be slowly turning to days when no so much is free any longer.  So, if I went subscription, I’m either bucking the trend, or getting in early on a new trend…

Dear fellow blogger … you may be right in your estimation, or perhaps not.  I’ve been hearing about this "trend" for many years now … I don’t see it making any move … in fact I see the "for pay" movement standing still or losing ground rather than gaining … but that’s only my view.

Here’s an example you might want to glance at: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/  Jerry Pournelle was "blogging" 30 years ago in his column in the old print Byte magazine.  He went on line some years ago … his "View" section has had a voluntary subscriber option for a long time.  I have no idea how many subscribers he gets, but he does have some …   Jerry for some years was writing about and even tried briefly various "micro pay wallet" schemes where subscribers would pay pennies or fractions of  a penny per page view.  These schemes are all dead and forgotten now, because, in effect, Google AdSense performs this function … we get a fraction of a cent or sometimes even cents per page view and all the complexities of actual charging are handled by Google.  On some of my technically oriented sites I know from actual reader conversations that the ads are viewed as a service … especially Link Ad units where the reasder gets a whole group of highly relevant suppliers in one organized place.  Of course if this were on a site about banking or mortgages the focus and utility might not be so apparent.

Bob Thompson, has been a print and online author for many years.  His Daynotes Journal has been a blog for more years than the term "blog" has been in use.  At one time there were more than 30 Friends of Bob who were also publishing "Daynotes", some still do.  Bob has also used the voluntary subscription model for some time.  Again, he has some subscribers … subscribers get perks like advanced looks at Bob’s print book chapters, etc. 

Here’s something in some ways more appropriate to your pwn efforts so far.  Fred Langa for years ran a two-tier Windows newsletter called the Langa List … it actually started as an old format mailing list.  It was free to all and had a buck or so a month "bonus" version in which Fred published additional articles and more detail.  Fred joined forces a year or so ago with Brian Livinston (they are both successful large circulation print computer magazine authors and editors) and merged all their outputs into "Windows Secrets" This is also a two-tier model, you get the weekly news for free and in each issue they detail what you are _not_ getting and offer it for a "pay what you think it is worth" donation scheme.

Do they make money?  Your guess is as good as mine, they have a pretty strong advertising base and I don’t think they _need_ a subscriber system … but it gives them, in effect, a second platform for ads. A clue might be that one time last year I contributed a tip for solving a problem they were mentioning.  One of the editors sent me a thank you email and offered me a $25 Amazon gift certificate as a gift.  I declined, telling him I seldom used Amazon and would prefer a year’s subscription to the paid version instead … he never answered back.

In the print world several of the big frogs in the puddle such a InfoWotld, Government Computer News, etc. have "eye watering" print subscription prices but those prices are basically eyewash and accounting gimmicks.  No one actually pays for a subscription to InfoWorld, they fill out the "Qualified Subscription" form and get all that paper every week for free … so there is certainly plenty of examples of the "free content/ads supported" model in the traditional "dead tree" publishing world.  A great many newspapers have tried and abandoned the content or subscribers model as well … newspapers live by putting ads in front of eyeballs and if they attract enough eyeballs, they make money.

As you probably know there are several apparently successful webmaster forum sites that are paid membership or that have paid areas.  I don’t know much about these, I find there is way more information than I can ever digest in services like SitePoint, so when I see a "subscribe" offer, I quickly click onward.  But certainly there are several of them making a good buck.

Brian Clark of Copy Blogger fame is deep into an effort he calls Teaching Sells, a certainly not free "How to do it" course that focuses on creating content people will pay for rather than the quality content/ad revenue ‘free" model we started this discussion with.

I don’t know if any of these ramblings have bee any help to you, but they may spark some ideas or help you think your way through some ideas.  Anybody else got anything to contribute?  Normally I charge 2 cents for your two cents, but this month only, I’m letting everyone have their own 2 cents for free ;-)

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