7 steps to building a lucrative B2B paid content business

With advertising increasingly elusive, and now under threat from ad blockers, most B2B media organisations are rightly focussing on building a range of paid digital content options for their audience.

The key to developing new revenue streams is truly understanding the information that the audience requires to do their job better, be more successful and save time and money. Then the skill is repackaging the content that you already own, or collating content that you don’t, and presenting it in a relevant and useful digital form.

Later this month I’m running a round table discussion at the European Information Industry Network Conference, where I’ll share some approaches to paid content that are already proving successful for other media and publishing businesses.

  1. Structure a pyramid

Your business audience is composed of different job roles and sectors – from aspiring new entrants to senior executives or data-hungry strategists and planners. Their appetite for content is different, and so is the value they derive from it. You need to encompass all the sub-groups, and offer packages that meet their needs and their budget.

So the first step is to create a pyramid structure that reflects a hierarchy of needs from free news and insights up to in-depth consultative intelligence products to support critical business decisions, with something at every price point in between. The pyramid matches the segmentation of your industry sector, with each product aimed at a different job role or distinct community.

  1. Permit creative sampling

No industry stands still, and a locked down paywall will deter new entrants who could be future customers. Make news or other snackable content free, or at least shareable on social media even if you operate a metered paywall. Test a free e-newsletter or mobile digest to entice new readers in to your articles and analysis. Be creative about how you permit potential customers to sample your content: XpertHR use a credits system that allows prospects to choose which of their premium articles they want to sample for free. Free content drives traffic, builds email databases, delivers a wider audience for advertisers and generates highly valuable analytics on how, when and where readers consume content.

  1. Experiment with micropayments

Whilst subscriptions are still core in B2B, and publishers like the predictability of steady income, there may be some new customers who aren’t ready to make an annual commitment. It’s worth looking at the experiences of European newspapers who have tested out micropayments for individual longer articles, ebooks and reports. Many offer a money-back guarantee if the reader doesn’t like the content – but so far they only have to refund 5% of purchases. Could B2B publishers offer a “pay as you go” option for new customers?

  1. Make subscriptions exclusive

A subscription that simply offers “unlimited access” to premium articles doesn’t feel that special. Offer exclusive “money can’t buy” benefits to subscribers – whether regular preview events with hard to access speakers plus networking, or exclusive research or benchmarking reports, archive access, or even an expert helpline.

  1. Create enterprise packages

Digital content is easy to share within an organisation, so an enterprise package with multiple logins is highly attractive. Plus the more staff who use an information source the more advocates it creates, the more it gets embedded in the workflow, the better the analytics to prove its value, and the higher the chances of renewal. But the functionality and user interface have to be spot-on, and demanding enterprise clients expect excellent training, round the clock support and continuous enhancements.

  1. Build a premium membership

Subscriptions may be price-capped around a few hundred pounds a year, so to break into the £ thousands needs a wider package. This will have to go beyond pure digital content, and could include events, training, networking, research reports or benchmarking. The addition of face to face services makes this tier more like a membership package than a subscription.

And once your editorial, marketing and commercial teams have the chance to engage directly with customers, it builds a personal relationship – and can uncover the insights that lead to the most lucrative product development of all…

  1. Turn data into intelligence

The ultimate tier, which can easily get into the £10,000 price tag or above, is a service that supports customers making high value decisions. This is often based on sophisticated, global data-sets updated daily, but the greatest value is in creating an accessible interface and set of tools that deliver the right information in the right format to win new clients, identify new opportunities and make better business decisions.

These are the new breed of intelligence products, maybe with only a few hundred clients, but which are far closer to their essential decision-making process and therefore almost indispensable. Notable new launches in this category include HSJ Intelligence, Lloyds List Intelligence and WGSN INstock.


So the route to a lucrative B2B paid content business is to segment your audience, creatively use free content to attract new entrants, build value into subscriptions, entrench your products throughout a client organisation, add the personal “membership” touch and use the insights gained to build high ticket intelligence products.

Along the way your organisation must morph from a content broadcaster to a responsive, tech-savvy, information service provider with strong customer support capability.

If you have experiences of adapting your B2B media business to fast-changing technology and evolving markets that you’d like to share, or you’d like to discuss your own challenges and get some new ideas from other publishers, please get in touch.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on the topic of digital publishing strategy for media sector publishers and events.