Reinventing online content for publishers

There’s been much debate in the last week on charging for content.  Newspapers like the Guardian that were previously adamant that all their content should be free, are now thinking about charging for specific information to targeted groups, eg media guardian.  The continued pressure on advertising revenue is forcing newspaper and magazine publishers to make dramatic cuts in editorial.  I’ve been thinking about how publishers can reinvent the way they think about creating content, and restructure their editorial investment accordingly.  See my earlier post on paid-for content for some extra tips. Here’s some radical ideas on inverting the traditional pyramid of editorial investment, with news as the broad base, and a small amount of added value content at the top:

1. Don’t duplicate what’s available for free

The biggest category here is news. While journalists love newsgathering; if your news stories are available elsewhere on the web, eg on BBC, don’t spend money creating them, just provide links.  Take a hard look at what you are offering; if there is a free alternative you will never be able to charge for the content and will have to fight hard for traffic.  On a small scale, when stopped trying to cover tournament news and focussed on gear reviews and technique, its traffic increased. You may be spending the majority of your editorial budget on stuff available elsewhere.

2. Focus on comment and opinion

Analysis and comment has value to specific audiences, and can engender loyalty.  It also adds personality to your media brand. Be tough with yourself, is your comment truly different from free sites like  Concentrate on interpreting the news for targeted groups.  This may still have to be free content but it is perhaps the best way to build traffic and reach a niche audience.

3. Where can you add value to consumer’s lives?

Think like a specialist publisher, and put yourself in your consumers’s shoes.  How can your content help them make better choices about where to go or what to buy, or help them acquire new skills?  If they place a value on making the right decision or knowing how to do something, you are making the first step towards creating content worth paying for.

4. Can you create useful or entertaining tools?

The explosion of iphone apps has shown that consumers will make small payments for neat little tools that make their life easier or more entertaining.  Can you create calculators, quizzes, games, planning tools that do this for your target audience?  It’s not traditional journalistic content but it does demonstrate consumer insight and creativity. drove dramatic audience increases with a simple car tax calculator.

5. What can you wrap into a premium subscription?

If you truly know your customer and can provide relevant packages of insightful comment and analysis, helpful buyers guides or how-tos, and useful or entertaining tools, this is far more likely to justify a paid subscription than flat content.

I’d be interested to hear the views and experiences of other publishers grappling with prioritising their editorial investment in a mostly-free online world, and testing paid content ideas.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy, Penmaen Media, creates practical digital media and marketing strategies.  If you’d like to discuss how you can reinvent how you create content, please contact us for an initial meeting.