I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the different types of pay walls and freemium services that exist throughout the web and the likelihood of people ponying up to pay for content. It’s a fundamental issue of supply and demand. With an infinite amount of content, does the value of most content drop to zero? And once we get over the hump of paying for digital content, are we predisposed to any particular formats or brands?
Over the past couple of months I have signed up and paid for a couple of premium newsletters. The first being Gary V’s Daily Grape newsletter that gives me tons of wine reviews (text) and additional videos. Great content and very useful to me. It’s once a month and focused.
I also have subscribed to Kevin Rose’s Foundation newsletter. It’s basically a newsletter focusing on startups and really great (in my opinion) interviews with founders of some of these companies. It makes me realize how many brilliant people there are out there and hearing their stories / methodologies really inspires me to try to execute on my ideas. Is it extremely useful content for someone who isn’t in the business of angel investing or a serial entrepreneur? Maybe not, but it’s good content and I’ve been willing to pay for it each month even though Kevin releases the video interviews for free (after 30 days, on iTunes as a podcast).
So then, why am I so willing to put down cash for these pieces of content and not, say, a digital subscription to the NY Times (which I also really enjoy)? After a little bit of soul searching I’ve come up with three possible reasons and am curious if anyone else pays for content online for the same reasons…
1 – Price. This may seem obvious but Foundation and Daily Grape roll in at $3.99 /mo. (for one newsletter / video). I can squeeze that coffee money out of my budget without thinking much about it. NY Times on the other hand would run me $3.75 /wk and only could access NYTimes.com and the iPhone app. I currently can get their 20 or so articles free per month – and top emailed stories are free on my iPhone. That subscription cost adds up, when I get MOST of what I want for free, and I feel like (at least for me) my price threshold for content (online or print) seems to be between $3-$4. It’s the same with most of the magazines I get if you break down the cost month by month. My subscriptions to Wired, Time, Fast Co, Food & Wine and the New Yorker all fall within that range.
2 – Precedent. I’ve always paid for magazines. They’re rarely free (unless you count Sky Mall). Even the online editions of Wired, the New Yorker, etc, while well done, are not as good as the magazine itself. I think of it as more of a supplement. These premium weren’t free to begin with. You want in from the start? Gotta pay up. But again, the low cost makes sampling worth it. One of the problems with the NY Times (again, just using them as an example) is that the content has been free for so long, and the best content is still widely available as it’s being shared through social networks. It’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle – even though I KNOW that they have some of the finest journalism in the world and I should support it, I don’t feel like there is an access plan / price point that hits the mark for me.
3 – Hyper-Targeted. This is one of the same reasons I don’t pay for cable TV. 90% of the channels are not interesting to me, but I have to buy them. It’s the same to a certain extent with any news operation such as the Times, my local paper, or even a situation like the Huffington Post. Would I pay a buck or two a month to get access to the NYT opinion pages and anything, say, related to Technology, or International Affairs? Maybe. I’m not sure, because I don’t know that I would consume all that content. Much of it may go unused. With magazine subscriptions or Foundation or Daily Grape, the content is hyper focused, I know I’ll consume all of it, and I know it will be good.
Keep in mind, I know this is dangerous. Only subscribing to and consuming content you’re super interested in or that simply conforms to your world view is a dangerous thing. I’m not trying to devalue newspapers or the online editions of newspapers. I am though trying to work through in my head why I reach into my wallet for some kinds of digital content and not others. And as time goes on, will more and more content be hyper-targeted and paid? Or will free content always rule the day? Also, with apps such as Flipboard and Paper.li where you can highly customize the news that gets pushed out or the news that you subscribe to, are we doing ourselves a disservice by eliminating content that we think we wouldn’t enjoy, but also happens to be content that may challenge us?
So this was a long post but I wanted to just get the question out there and maybe a bit of dialogue going. Do any of you all pay for content (I’m interested in print and online in particular)? If so, what do you subscribe to? What is your threshold of pricing? Leave a comment and let me know.