Scott at Blog Herald asks Could Blogging Adopt A Paid Content Business Model? and points out a number of blogs (including ProBlogger) that could conceivably charge readers for content.
It’s an interesting topic and one that has popped up as a discussion point a couple of times a year since I started blogging on an entrepreneurial level. It’s also a question I get asked quite a lot from bloggers looking at their options for monetizing their sites.
On one level I can understand why bloggers would see this as an option. Other publishing businesses do it (magazines, newspapers, pay TV and industry reports/publications) and even other types of web sites do it (membership sites) – so why can’t blogs?
My response to those exploring this monetization model is generally something along the lines of this (beware – the following is messy and a somewhat random collection of thoughts):
It’s possible - a certain percentage of people will pay a subscription for online content for one or a combination of the following reasons:
- it saves them time
- it is unique and can’t be found elsewhere for free
- it comes from someone they perceive as having expertise
- it is very useful and helps them in some area of their life (I have a pretty wide definition of ‘useful’ which includes things like being enterained.
- it comes from someone who they are loyal to
If a blog were able to produce content that tapped into these things (unique, useful, exclusive content provided by an expert or someone that readers are loyal to) than guess they might have a case for charging for content.
However – there are certain obstacles to this:
- competition – on most (if not all) topics that I can think of there is an oversupply of information already available for free online. Coming up with something unique and exclusive will be difficult in most niches.
- critical mass – I said above that a ‘certain percentage of people’ would be willing to pay for a subscription to a blog in some circumstances. I don’t know if anyone has done any study on that ‘certain percentage’ would be but I suspect it would be low. As a result you’d need to have a fairly large readership to start with to find enough paid subscribers.
- a culture of ‘free’ - ‘free’ is something that is central to blogging culture. While I think in wider culture there would be more likelihood of finding paying customers – bloggers themselves tend to be into ‘free’ and many can be almost anti anything that charges for information.
- established expectations – the problem with suddenly turning a blog (or some part of it) into a paid service is that it works against the expectations that it’s loyal readers have already built up of it. For example – here at ProBlogger I’ve given away free information on making money online for 2.5 years. If I were to suddenly start holding back part of that information for those willing to pay I can imagine the outcry).
- blogging without the link – the interlinking nature of blogging is something that blogging as a medium has been built on. If I write something of worth it’s likely to be linked to by others and their readers will come to see what it’s about. The problem with locked areas of blogs is that when people connect with what you write in them that they don’t have a way to pass it on to friends.
So how might paid subscriptions work when it comes to blogging?
If I knew the answer to this I’d probably be doing it myself – but here are a few more random thoughts which might stimulate some discussion:
- &Free AND Paid - unless you’re lucky enough to have a very high profile that magnetically draws people to you I suspect that you’ll need to offer those who you’d like to subscribe to your paid service something for free. This might mean you have a lower level free blog that is valuable yet holds something back or a blog on a related topic or an industry news blog etc. Getting this balance right between paid and free will be crucial. Give too much away and people may not feel the need to pay – don’t give enough away and people won’t see the point in paying.
- Paid Content and Value – the paid component of a blog needs to enhance the life of those who pay for it in some way. You need to give something that is truly valuable. This might include exclusive information, personal attention or coaching, the ability to connect with other high level people etc.
- Entertainment – one of the areas that I suspect might do better with paid subscriptions is entertainment. While you can be entertained for free in many places today, entertainment taps into something different than presenting people with information. I need to think this one through a little more.
- Status – another half baked idea that I have is that people like to be seen to be on ‘the inside’ of certain communities. I know people who pay a yearly fee to be a part of certain clubs that they rarely use simply to flash the cards that come with membership. They also are able to list of others who are members – even if they’ve not met them.
- Filters – while I’ve said above that a barrier to paid subscriptions is competition and the large volumes of free information online – I wonder whether this might actually be something that we’ll see people reversing and using as a sales pitch – ie they offer their services as a personal filtering service. Of course the barrier to this is the increasing amount of Web 2.0 tools that are getting better at filtering information – but perhaps there’s something to be said for a human filter.
- Personal Coaching - one obvious extension for blogs that could be worthy of adding a paid subscription to is areas for more personal coaching and interaction. This is what many internet marketers are doing with their sites – having different levels of membership that offer different services and tools. Usually at the top of the membership levels is the opportunity for one on one coaching with the site owner. Along the way up the membership levels are opportunities for small group coaching and learning. I could see bloggers adding these types of membership levels to blogs – but they’d need to have a fairly sizable readership and to ensure that the free areas maintained a good quality.
As I’ve emphasized numerous times above – I’m no expert in this area and would love to hear what others have to say.
- Would you pay for content (or services) from some blogs? Which ones? What would you pay for?
- Do you know of bloggers who already do this successfully? (ScrivsTyme is one that I know of – although it’s podcasting not blogging).
- Anything else to add? I’m sure there is plenty more that could be said on the topic both in terms of ways forward and barriers to paid areas on blogs. I’d love to hear your thoughts.