Why b2b publishers need a free content strategy

Business to business publishers are wrestling with how to apply their controlled circulation print model online, and how to persuade their readers to pay for content and related services.  Some are successfully generating new revenues with subscriptions, events, conferences and training, but most also offer free online content as well.  A recent debate on the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in, with contributions from Sift, Econsultancy, Subhub and Advanstar, has convinced me that the solution is to have a blend of free, “controlled” – ie registered –  and paid-for content.  Below are five reasons why I believe free content works for b2b publishers:

1. Leave no room for competitors

Going for a 100% paid/ subscription strategy immediately leaves room for a free publisher to gain a foothold, and gather up the prospects and new entrants.  This is Murdoch’s dilemma with the paywall version of the Times.  So by creating a free proposition as well as a paid-for subscription you  can control your market.

2. Reach the whole industry – worldwide

The reason “controlled circulation” worked in print was that advertisers could reach all the key influencers in a market sector.  Free online services gather up the opinion-formers and boost the credibility of your media business.  In many industries, there is a substantial international opportunity – both econsultancy and Green Star Media now have over half their online paid subs outside the UK.  Free content lets you discover which territories to concentrate on.

3. Take part in social media debate

Content behind a paywall is harder to share, and fewer people can comment.  A great b2b media brand needs to be at the centre of the debate.  In most industries, individuals’ business networks are strong distribution channels – publishers need some quality content that is freely available for professionals to pass on and spark discussion.

4. Show non-subscribers what they are missing

Clever online publishers let non-subscribers see the value that subscribers get, with symbols on web pages, introductory paragraphs that end with a subs offer and emails with teaser headlines.  The Pharma Letter manages this “tease” well – and also misses few opportunities to remind visitors of its free 30 day trial.  the FT has made the limited free access model work very effectively.

5. Add value to “free” content

Free content doesn’t have to be expensive to originate.  Publishers can take a sample of their past content, or simply curate news stories or comment from third party sources.  An archive is a great asset, providing context on long-running stories or what prominent industry figures have said in the past.

If you’re currently learning about the dynamics of free, registered and paid-for content in a professional or business to business environment, I’d be interested to hear your experiences – just comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in to swap ideas with over 350 other specialist media people.

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop new revenue sources for your specialist media business please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.