My no-paywall plan to save the New York Times
Ian Lurie Jan 19 2010
Update: The New York Times just announced their new ‘metered pricing’ plan, which does the opposite of my idea by charging the more loyal readers more than the one-stop lookie-loos, and offering no reward whatsoever. Read it here.
Actually, it’s my plan for how the New York Times can save itself. First, a little history:
Back in June I wrote about search engines’ steady move toward aggregation, and how we all have to adjust.
Today, Jordan McCollum over at Marketing Pilgrim summarized a few reports rife with news publication hand-wringing. Apparently, only 56% of folks reading Google news ever click through.
News publications believe that this means Google is cutting off readers: Why click through to, say, The New York Times, when you can get all the news you need right there on the Google News search results page?
The New York Times’ answer to the fact that they can’t get enough readers to their content is…
To put all their content behind a pay wall.
Now, I’m no Rupert Murdoch, but this does not seem like a winning formula.
The model’s changed
The New York Times and publications like them are still playing in a world where they:
- Build a list of paying subscribers;
- Mail them newspapers;
- Charge them for ‘em;
- Sell ads based on that list of paying subscribers.
The model’s changed, guys. There’s no list of subscribers any more. It’s gone. 10 years gone. You’ve had time to get through denial, anger, negotiation and acceptance.
You can put up a pay wall. Then you’ll lose pageviews and ad dollars faster than you gain paying subscribers.
You can keep going as you are, with crappy SEO and no perceptible online content strategy. And online-focused news sites will eat you alive.
Or, you can change the game, stop chasing specialized online publications, give your subscribers what they want, and make more money.
Build an action economy
Enough with the engagement economy, or the attention economy, or whatever the hell the pundits are calling it this week.
Build an action economy:
- Create a way to track, reliably, how individual readers move through your site. You have lots of smart people. You can do it.
- Restrict content access, but only for, say, 40% of your content. Let folks see general news for nothing. Close access to niche content.
- When I come to your site, track what I do. Give me credit if I watch a whole video ad, or read a particular story, or click more than N pages.
- If I come to restricted content, tell me I’ve already earned enough credit to read the story, or that I can earn enough by taking certain actions, like watching an ad.
- Also tell me that I can, say, enter my cell number and buy credits and have the charge show up on my cell phone bill. Or that I can text a specific code to do the same thing.
- Go to advertisers. Show them exactly how many people watched the video, or signed up for the webinar, or downloaded the whitepaper. Use that to improve accountability and make your case to sell more ads.
Even folks who don’t buy credits still earn them by reading. It’s like FourSquare for publications. If they want to keep those credits, they just punch in their cell number, or create a unique tracking code. They have an incentive to return and keep taking action. Eventually they earn enough to read the niche content they want by spending the credits they earned. When they run out, they can buy more or start over.
You love it, because readers can get a look at your great content and become increasingly loyal over time. And, you don’t have to drive away 90% of your readership with a pay wall. By the time most readers get to restricted content, they’ve at least earned enough credits to read that one story.
And driven readers can buy access to stories quickly and easily, story by story.
Advertisers love it, because this is a system that turns advertising into a reward generator, instead of a punishment.
An honest system and an ecology
This is an honest system. Sure, readers may play ads and ignore them to earn credits. Just like they flip past ads in print newspapers, or tune out during commercials on the radio.
It’s up to advertisers to develop clever, compelling content. That’s how marketing works.
And, multiple publications can partner, so that readers can pool credits and get access to more and more content.
And, ad sales are no longer based on ‘impressions’ or ‘clicks’. They’re based on actions.
Betchya earn more money online this way than you do right now.
Just try something, OK?
Scoff if you want. Dismiss the whole idea. Just try something, OK? Because I don’t want journalism to become 50% Fox News and 50% Joe Blogger.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More