This week I started my digital subscription to The New York Times. It's not what you think.
I did not subscribe because the publication is aligned with my political views. I did not subscribe because I wanted to support the cause of journalism. I did not subscribe to thumb my nose at the current political parties in power. I did not subscribe to support their mission. I did not subscribe because they have a writer (or two) that I want to read. I did not subscribe because the good content was being placed behind a gated wall. I subscribed for one simple and honest reason: each month, I would surpass my limit of free articles, and it became frustrating to me that I was not able to read the articles that I really wanted to see. As more and more articles would come online that interested me, I felt like I was missing out on content that could be of tremendous value.
This may not shake your universe, but it should make you think twice about your content marketing strategy.
The quality of the content from The New York Times - constantly and consistently - made me feel like I was missing out. The free content was great, but getting unlimited access to everything made much more sense. From an elementary analysis, you could say that I was paying for more quantity. From a different perspective, you could say that The New York Times has been able to think differently about paid content. It says something - in a world of so much free content - that a company is able to produce such high quality (with such consistency) that I was compelled to subscribe. There must be some kind of graph for this? Brands should consider this as well. At what point does the total quality of your content pass from causal, free and "good enough" to build some audience, to consistently, valuable and would be missed if it were not readily available?
Support the content that matters to you.
It is true that I am happy to buy the physical copies of magazine like Fast Company, The Atlantic, The New Yorker and Wired. I do not want to see these important business publications go away. Candidly, they offer so much content (for free) online, that I rarely look at the printed versions. Candidly, I'm not sure that I would pay a fee for just the online content, based on how often I find myself clicking over to stories that are of interest to me. Many of these traditional publishers are in a literary fist-fight with models like Vice and BuzzFeed. They are all constantly battling over headlines that get attention with content that doesn't match the desire to click on the link.
The lunchbag letdown of content.
When is content not a lunchbag letdown for your consumers? How often are brand analyzing their content to ensure that the work to click on the headline is surpassed only by what comes after that click? It's a hard model to live up to in this bizarre world of digital media that we find ourselves in. Still, those that put in the time and consistently deliver against it are reaping the rewards. With that, there are many (many, many) online publications, newsletters and podcast that offer up this high level of quality that are still free. As a consumer, when given the chance, I am always happy to financially support these publishers. Not in an effort to be exposed to less advertising. Not in an effort to "tip jar" the producers. More in an effort to be a part of a thriving business world. When I derive value from any product or service, I am happy to pay for it. Most people are. Brands should pay closer attention to this, as they grapple with what to charge for and what to give away for free. This isn't explicitly an online publishing opportunity, either. I'm guessing millions of people would pay for a more premium version of Facebook, Twitter and more. Don't be skeptical. Look no further than LinkedIn.
Pay for quality content: not to demonstrate support, but because the value is there. Create quality content with the same disposition.