Monday, October 05, 2009

How to sell news on the web: A checklist

Publishers groping with the question of when, whether and how to charge for interactive content often raise the issue of what they could sell, if indeed they ever decided to try. Here’s a quick checklist to see if you are ready:

1. You cannot charge for such commoditized content as world, national, business, sports and entertainment news.

2. You might be able to charge for local coverage, if it is sufficiently intensive, comprehensive and exclusive to make to make it required reading for residents of the targeted community.

3. In the business-to-business realm, you probably can charge users for exclusive information that helps them make money, avoid losing money or, ideally, both at the same time.

4. You probably can charge consumers for two things: (a) exclusive entertainment content and (b) authoritative information that helps them hang on to more of their money.

Astute readers will note that much of the information publishers would like to sell does not fall into any of the above categories. This suggests that newspapers and broadcasters who are keen on peddling content need to focus on creating saleable product before they begin trying to charge for it.

I came to the above conclusions after rating content subjectively on a scale of 1 to 5 according eight attributes I felt would affect its value. The attributes are as follows:

Uniqueness – How likely are you to find the content someplace else? The more unique the content is, the more points it gets for the purposes of this analysis.

Routineness – Is the content a special class of information or such common stuff as weather reports, stock quotes or sports scores? Special content gets high points; ordinary stuff gets no points.

Time sensitivity – Will the value of the information deteriorate over time? Examples might be the exact moment coveted concert tickets go on sale – or fresh information that might affect the opening price of a stock. The more time-sensitive the information is, the more points it gets. The more it can be delivered on the mobile platform, the more value it has.

Business urgency – Is this information that will help someone in business make (or avoid losing) money? The more mission-critical the content would be to a business person, the more points it merits.

Targetability – How tightly targeted is the information to the interests of the consumer? The more customized the information can be, the more points it deserves.

Entertainment value – Unique entertainment content – like the first opportunity to hear a popular singer’s new recording or the sneak peek of a movie trailer – gets extra credit.

Localness – The closer that unique content is to home, the more it is worth, especially if it is exclusive.

Home economics – If it helps consumers save money – like the refrigerator ratings in Consumer Reports – content will earn top points.

Put them all together and you get the graph below. As you can see, the sweet spot for business-to-business publishers is depicted in blue. The consumer-oriented content most likely to fetch premium payments is shown in orange.

The opportunity seems to be bigger for B2B than B2C content, but operators of the websites of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times already knew that.

17 Comments:

Blogger Mike Donatello said...

Alan,

Nice post. I agree with most of your assessment. I say "most" because, while your evaluation process is a good start, publishers need to remember that, in the end, the only assessment that really matters is the audience's. Failing to take a market-centered approach to product development is publishers' single biggest (and ongoing) mistake.

5:28 AM  
Anonymous Thomas Ritchie said...

This list should be just the start of a long discussion by newsroom editors and online leaders. I'd love to hear more ideas. One I can think that seems to be working for many properties is exclusive sports coverage - namely with college and pro teams. Others?

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Helpful synthesis of ideas on a topic that has many voices surrounding it.

Your point about "mission critical" information as having the most potential monetary value is a great one- both for business to business as you mention and within the Home Economics category. You note Consumer Reports; as with the FT and the WSJ, Consumer Reports also recognizes the value and charges membership fees for access to specialized content.

I wonder about the Local category, though. Are information seekers looking for targeted local news inclined to search and pay for it online or is this a sector in which local print media (usually in the form of local free papers), sufficient?

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

To Elizabeth's point, isn't it in the nexus of timeliness and proximity that online (paid or not) can beat local free weekly papers? I may care today about the car accident on my corner, but maybe not by next week when the The Anytown Weekly comes out...

10:01 AM  
Anonymous saurabh said...

Alan, i absolutely agree. http://phonethics.in/saurabh/index.php/2009/08/29/case-1-for-paid-content/ here's my humble but fearless take on selling digital media. It's distinct from news media and can be curated along some of the filters you mention, profitably. I'd love to quote you in meetings as we pitch our digital content store :)
Thanks a ton for this post

11:25 AM  
Anonymous T Heller said...

How about a new franchise/category, P2P?

'Public to Public', wherein real local news about the effectiveness (or more likely, ineffectiveness) of our local, regional and state public institutions is continually examined and assessed? Bring back the role of a robust fourth estate.

Talk radio alone can't do that. It doesn't fit into either the B2B nor B2C category, but it sure can sell papers.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous PiBlondin said...

I mostly disagree with your point about timeliness. I understand that unique information that might influence, say a stock trader's actions is important. However, the fact that most content is timely also means that it's disposable. In many cases, the most valuable content is that which is timeless and will be just as valuable 10 years from now as it is now.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dare I say ... interactivity?

As a long-time media consumer and occasional producer, the thing I value most about any story on the Internet is my ability to comment in response.

I suspect I am not alone.

The ability to enable reader replies and conversations should be included in any assessment of the value of news.

12:16 AM  
Blogger The Bangkok Bugle said...

I know this isn't really the main point of the article, but publishers need to be prepared to enforce their copyright against those who take paid-for content and publisher for free or commercial gain elsewhere. That includes in foreign langauges.

I'm a publisher in Thailand and you would be amazed (and possibly shocked) at the amount of English language content that gets translated word-for-word and reproduced by Thai language publishers.

2:02 AM  
Blogger Anne Holland Orlovic said...

Great chart. I'd add one more attribute though based on my years of researching Case Studies of sites that charge. That factor is convenience. Or rather, Uber-Convenience.

Consumers and businesses alike have been very willing to pay for content they could find for free -- if it's niche content they really desire and they suspect collecting/finding it on their own would take hours/work. You can't charge super-high prices, but you sure can sell a lot of subscriptions.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Todd Benoit said...

I wonder about charging for local news: Our news site, like many others, covers many small communities and has lots of local coverage, but it does not have a lot of local news about any one town. If we concentrate on fewer towns to cover them more in depth, we lose part of our audience. I guess my thought is that Smithville residents won't pay for Brownville news, no matter how local.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Beth Lawton said...

NAA is working on getting a conversation rolling about this topic. Please cross-post your comments to Twitter (#newspay) or to NAA's Facebook page. Nice work getting this started, Alan! Thanks!

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get the graph. It doesn't seem right.

4:41 PM  
Blogger PayCheckr said...

guesses. who knows. only one way to find out. try it.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still no room in your world for user-friendliness?

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantasy sports. Where were newspapers when it comes to fantasy sports?

Sponsorable, revenue-creating (insider news), niche coverage with cross-platform possibilities. The entire fantasy sports industry was created while newspapers busied themselves with cutting and pasting game stories onto the websites. Yahoo, ESPN, Fox Sports and CBS Sports have 'em. So do the various professional leagues.

But newspapers? Zzzzzzzz.

9:13 AM  
Anonymous John Einar Sandvand said...

I think your list is very good - as far as the content goes.
But we must not forget all the other aspects that also influence whether people will pay for a service, such as convenience and accesibility.
For instance: Why are people paying for the crappy newspaper product on Amazon's Kindle? I think most newspaper editors would agree me with me that it is not very good. Yet a lot of users seem to love it. The explanation is quite simple, I think: The users are not paying for the content as such, but for the convenience of having it accessible in new and useful situations.
And Amazon has made it just "too damned easy to pay".
Also: Why are we paying for newspapers? For the content? Well, yes, but as important is the flexibility of the medium and how it can be used in so many useful situations, like on the train or at the breakfast table.
I think it is smart that we try to remember these other aspects of users willingness to pay. Quite often they may prove to be as important as the content itself.

12:38 PM  

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