Opportunities for niche online paid content

Many media owners who have put all their content online for free are now wrestling with the dilemma of how to encourage their users to pay for online content.  My belief is that consumers won’t pay for general news, however cleverly packaged, as there are just too many alternative sources for free.  Much is made of the FT’s subscriptions model, but they are almost playing in a business to business market, where there is an expectation of paying for content.  So are there any opportunities where consumer-facing online publishers can charge for content?  I think there is more mileage in niche topics – where a media owner has exclusive content, and a targeted audience find the information highly relevant and hard to replicate.  Even with the explosion in user reviews, there are still some areas where an expert view or recommendation has more weight and authority than the anonymous poster.  So here are 5 tips for media owners to decide whether a niche is worth testing for paid content:

1. Check out how much consumers pay for similar “old media”

Look at the circulation of specialist magazines in this sector – are they growing?  How many subscribers do they have?  Why do readers pay their £3.50 or so for their content vs what is available free online?  Also monitor sales of relevant books and guides in markets where information dates more slowly – an indication of the value consumers attribute to this content.

2. Trawl the iphone app store

This is a fabulous test-bed for mini content ideas and useful tools.  The vast majority of apps are free, and most paid apps are games, but there are other “long tail” content apps as well.  Most can only charge 59p, but some command a higher price point and rank relatively highly on the sector download volume charts.

3. Check if publishers are promoting PDFs and ebooks

Review your competitors websites; amid the free content are there parcels which command a price?  Some newspapers still charge for crosswords and puzzles; parkers charges for detailed car reviews; lonely planet offers chapter sections for £1-3, and full ebook downloads.

4. Monitor free content

Ask your customers which sources they use and how they rate them – including the free content sources.  If other sites have an ulterior motive such as selling tickets, products, books or subscriptions they may always be prepared to offer content for free, and you will have an uphill struggle.

5. Consider a membership proposition

Many publishers bundle in online content with a subscription or membership.  Walking world offers walks for £1.50 each or unlimited walk downloads for an annual subscription.  See my previous blog on creating a profitable community for some more ideas on building membership propositions.

I’d be keen to hear of any examples of niche paid online sites that you have found.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy business, Penmaen Media, creates practical digital media and marketing strategies.  If you would like advice on how to build a niche online paid content business for your media brand, just contact us for an initial discussion.