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Making It Pay

A Fresh Ferocious Wave/Article 

Making It Pay

July 12, 2010

Modern media doesn’t lack readers. Nor does it lack creators, reporters, photographers, designers, editors, publishers or distributors. What it lacks is money.

Publications aren’t dying. But the old business model — affordable publications supported by advertising — is. As we look toward what media might become, the most important question remains, “how will we pay for it?”

Answering that question is what we’d like to discuss here. Making It Pay is a monthly series sharing ideas for new journalism business models in the post-advertising age. Each installment will include ideas, experiments and pipe dreams about content creation that creates money. Or at the very least, pays for itself.

  • Permission-based and intrusion allowed. If a reader gives you permission to send them information, you have the opportunity to try to sell them something in order to pay for your content. If you publish restaurant reviews, for instance, restaurants will pay to attach coupons to that content because, just like the old advertising model, you give them access to an audience but, in this case, an audience that has expressed an explicit interest in the subject. Seth Godin explains them both in Permission Marketing.


  • Freemium. People will still pay for content if convinced that it will be sufficiently valuable and unavailable anywhere else. The McKinsey Quarterly,  for instance, uses a freemium model. Some content is available publically, a second tier is available to subscribers only and the most expensive tier is for premium subscribers. This works well for highly specialized content based on proprietary research that is password protected and unavailable for forward or printing.
  • Rebirth of the editor. Even the greatest writers need someone to tell them when to shut up. Today, this job may have a different name. Social media sites and groups often have moderators who vet content and advise contributors on good manners and best practices. Sites with large numbers of blogs like Reed Business Information (200 blogs from 300 bloggers) need editors to manage all of that. According to Dan Blank who manages RBI’s program, monetizing social media is like determining the ROI on your phone system. It’s a cost of doing business these days.
  • Content vs. functionality. If users are unwilling to pay for content, they may be willing to pay for functionality. They may pay to have information delivered to a mobile device—think iPhone apps—or to subscribe to an audio series they can listen to in the car. Sell them on the idea of convenience rather than content.


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