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Getting readers to pay: What’s next?

One of the effects of on-going concerns about ad blocking, has been that monetising content through micropayments and paywalls has once again risen to the top of many publishers' agendas.

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In a session at FIPP’s World Congress today in Toronto, three panellists, all of whom work for companies involved in the monetisation of content, offered their views as to how media brands could get readers to pay for the articles they consume.

First up Nikolay Malyarov, EVP, chief content officer and general counsel, PressReader (a multi-channel, cross platform, digital publishing company based in Canada), talked about the way that content  distribution has evolved

“Readers are calling the shots about how and when they want to consume content,” he argued. “And content distribution has evolved too - it is now very mobile. Media brands need to focus on user engagement, working out how they can extend brands into experiential things, engaging the community and maximising engagement with consumers.” 

Kris Nagel, senior VP: worldwide field operations, Vindicia, a subscription billing and recurring revenue solutions company which is based in the USA, offered a slightly different view. “Brands need to focus on creating compelling content and then ask themselves ‘how do we get the user to pay for for this’,” he argued. “That can be anything from premium services through to transactional services and subs and membership.”

Alexander Klöpping, founder of Blendle, talked about how his enterprise, in which readers pay to read articles which are curated from a number of publishers in The Netherlands and Germany came together. “What if there was one website and you only paid for stuff you are interested in, with money given back to you if you don't like it?” he asked. “And how about if we could filter stuff that we think you would like to read? It works for consumers and publishers, who get to keep 70 per cent of what we make, like it too.”

Should online content not be free?

The panel’s host, Tom Gierasimczuk, publisher and GM, Vancouver and Western Living, then asked the question -  should online content not be free?

Malyarov replied by pointing out that so much news content is commoditised and so by its nature it needs to be free. He added that conversely “longform journalism has an ability to draw people into paying for it, but at the end of the day none of these channels of monetising content are its saving grace. There are lots of ways to monetise editorial.”

Nagel said that the issue was not “black or white, and not simply about free or paid. Understanding who the end user is and giving them the ability to purchase what they want, when they want it is crucial.”

Klöpping then described the type of content that works well on the Blendle platform. He noted that clickbait stuff tends to be widely read, but that is the type of content that people ask for refunds. “What works best are  beautiful journalistic pieces, which are well researched. Vivid good journalism.”

He also explained that the most successful content in Blendle so far was exclusive content that was published on the platform before anywhere else.

Tom Gierasimczuk then asked the panel – can paywalls be made to work better?

Once again, Malyarov stressed that there was no single channel that worked for publishers and that content creators need to publish everywhere. Meanwhile, Nagel pointed out that making things easy for the readers, such as one click payments, was paramount.

Klöpping talked of the importance of experimentation, adding that “publishers should be doing a lot of testing and optimising.”

Finally Gierasimczuk asked the panel what advice they would give to small or medium sized publishers on how they should monetise their content?

Malyarov said that publishers needed “to understand what their USP is, what is unique about the content they produce. Also would they read their own content let alone pay for it?”

Nagel suggested that publishers should focus on getting their core content right, and then adding value added premium services around the content.

Finally Klöpping argued that publishers needed to, at the very least, give the impression that content they produce is valuable. “If you instil a sense of value, that is at least a start. That is why we don’t worry too much about refunds. At least people have begun to see that content has a value.”

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