Common monetization mistakes: Turning "Free" into "Fee"

Gilles Domartini | Mon Apr 18 2011 | Industry insights

Now that we've been spending the past months working  more closely with publishers, from small bloggers to large publishing powerhouses, the most frequent mistake we have heard is that a paywall should be implemented in order to turn a "free model" into a "paying" one.

Well, in reality, turning a "free model" into a paying one can be very difficult, and it won't happen overnight. Why?

We forget that what triggers paying content is consumer acceptance. For instance, to gauge typical consumer reactions,see, Twitter comments about the NYT paywall in the last 2h:

We have covered the issues behind the NYT implementation and freemium models, and Stacey Kramer has further analyzed all root causes and options last week.

  1. Length of time it took to implement the solution, and many differences between what was first said, and what is finally executed
  2. Confusion over the way is supposed to work
  3. Complications regarding access through smart phones and different devices that have different pricing, creating very complex logistics

Overall, poor listening to consumers expectations, and trying to cope with corporate mantras like:

  • "We listen to consumers" Come on guys, did you really listen, or you just did a few market research and then drew your own conclusions?
  • "Adversing still matters" Sure it does, but why not be more creative in the way you handle advertising requirements....just letting the the "metered paywall" letting the flow and multiplying loopholes is just adding more confusion

What can we take away from this? As Danny Sullivan aptly summarizes, from a series of tweets: “can we agree? it’s not an NYT paywall, it’s an idiotwall."

In other words, trying to turn free content into pay content, is likely to make everyone look like fools....

What, then, is the right approach to sell content?

1- Keep most of your content free:

If consumers like what you do (and are able to see it), you'll be able to generate far more business opportunities than the few dollars you can charge for your content. Take for example MysteryGuitarMan who became a huge star just based on his Youtube video (250M views, and counting!).

2- Trigger interest:

Imagine you have a restaurant review blog. You cover the story of a new opening, and you want to make people pay for some of the content.  See the 2 sentence below - which one do you prefer?


Our test shows 50% more conversion on the right column. Why? You don't think you buy content. You buy a service, you buy exclusivity, you buy a unique piece of information, you buy something you care about.

So what you sell is not the access to content, but rather you sell value-added services.

3- In-page monetization:

To avoid of the complexity of metered paywalls, one solution is to utilize in-page monetization. To ensure that all the navigation flow remains intact, you can generate SEO, keep your advertising revenue flowing in, and just select the right part of the content to sell such as text, video or images. How does this work? For an example of in-page monetization, see one we recently created here.

4- Continue to try and adjust different strategies:

  • Adjust pricing: When you buy products in real life, do they all have the same price? No, each product has a different priced based on its features. Therefore if you have an exclusive content, you can sell it at a higher versus if it is more generic, in which case you should ask for less.
  • Adjust timing: Start with a free article "for first-time viewers" so it generates interest through scarcity, and then activate some paid features. Or vice-versa...
  • Adjust commission levels: How much does your audience want or care about a commission? Best is to test it (to find out more how Cleeng works here)

There are certainly many more methods you can think about, and you'll need further tests to gauge what will work for you.

What are your other ideas? Or what are your experiences so far?

in the coming weeks, we'll continue to share best practices. If interested, follow us here.

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