Trends in Paid Online Content





The Wall Street Journal has a nice piece outlining a trend that we have discussed before here at Small Business Trends: the growth in paid Internet content.

Contrary to popular wisdom, all content is not free online. Paid content is a huge market, to the tune of $1.6 billion (USD) in the U.S. last year.

And it continues to grow. According to the Online Publishers Association, a source cited in the article, U.S. consumers alone spent $300 Million (USD) more on paid content last year than the year before.

Michael Totty in the Wall Street Journal outlines the key factors for successful Internet content sales:

  • Make sure you have something to sell that users can’t get elsewhere for free. The harder it is to find or the more unique, the more likely you can get paid for it.
  • Give away some information on the site for free. In other words, offer a free registration level and give away the kind of information that is available elsewhere for free. Then offer password-restricted sections of the site where you charge for the information that is (1) scarce or (2) delivered with some kind of value-add such as a service.
  • Provide free samples and trial subscriptions in order to turn free subscribers into paying ones. Even on many highly successful sites, the number of paid subscribers/purchasers is a mere fraction of the total subscribers.
  • Ease your users into becoming paid subscribers. Set prices low and raise them over time to get to your target price. Offer multiple price levels.
  • Create package offerings and bundle multiple services and content pieces together under a single fee. Only 12% of content sellers charge “by the drink.”
  • Retain your subscribers by giving them more for their money.
  • Upsell and cross-sell to build add-on revenues. The cost of acquiring new customers is high. You want to retain your existing customers, increasing the volume of sales to them over time.

Many small content-based Internet businesses (including weblogs) are struggling to make money from their sites. Although a paid content model is not as simple to implement as an advertising based model, the Journal article suggests that if the business model is carefully designed and executed, paid content can work. 

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Anita Campbell


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

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