First signs of successful online content subscriptions

The paid content debate has been raging for months in something of a vacuum of facts, but today three news items made me think that the future is more likely to be about regular subscriptions for the hard-core rather than a series of micropayments for individual pieces of content.  See my earlier post on opportunities for niche online paid content for some tips for publishers considering this move.

Firstly, paid content’s survey shows that for online news, 54% would choose subscriptions rather than one-off payments.  Now, that is just a theoretical question, and their survey on the previous day showed that only 5% would pay for news at all.  But still consumers are used to the idea of subscriptions for specialist content, from magazines and pay TV.

Some harder evidence comes from www.racingpost.com, who provide most of their content for free, but charge from £7.50 a month for a package of video and archive, and claim, according to an article in the independent, to have achieved 10,000 subs in just a few months.  They also offer online tips for £9.50 a month and package all this with a sub to the TV channel for £200pa.  Now, maybe these prices make sense to keen gamblers who can see the immediate financial value, but nonetheless this is an interesting example of a specialist publisher trying a different model.

Finally, the Spectator has decided to remove its magazine archive content from its site, and charge  £67.50pa for a digital edition subscription.  It has left some content online, including a blog, but just removed the back issues of the magazine.  Maybe they believe they will generate more revenue from digital subs than from the ad revenue from the traffic created by leaving the archive online for free.  The Spectator has such a distinct political voice that they may feel confident that readers have few alternative free sources of news and comment to flee to.  Anyway, a brave move, and it will be interesting to see how many digital subscribers they get.

Not quite online content, but Athletics Weekly are also offering an iphone app that provides 7 day (£1.99) and 30 day (£3.99) subscriptions to digital editions of their magazine.  There’s a you tube video that demos it – a little fiddly to navigate but again a sign that specialist publishers are testing the water.

So the first few publishers are toying with online content subs for their hard core audiences, whilst keeping a core of free content to entice the masses.  If you have heard of any other examples do let me know by commenting on this post.

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