How to monetize content that used to be free

One of the interesting touch points between media and economics is the question of pricing and how to monetize your content. As we’ve seen over the last years, all media companies have struggled to monetize their content since the Internet started with a free-for-all buffet of information.

Lately, though, we’ve seen some examples of how the most innovative media companies are starting to be able to do this in new ways. If we look at some of the different types of content on the Internet:

1. “Normal” content: I.e. regular news. Same as you get from your nightly TV news show. Not breaking, nor analytical. The ship has sailed on this one, too many people can do it, there’s no way to ever monetize this.

2. Value-added content. Either being first, so that there’s an economic benefit in being able to use or trade on the information. This is the space Reuters and Bloomberg occupies with market-moving information. Financial Times is moving into this space with their fastFT service, which will be interesting to see if this can reach to noncustomers (people who don’t use or never even though of using) of Reuters and Bloomberg. FT is overall one of the most innovative media companies out there, constantly testing out new concepts (as recently mentioned by Cory Doctorow in his lunch with, well, the FT). Perhaps since they have the knife hanging over them, with the constant rumours of Pearson wanting to/having to sell them. But necessity is clearly the mother of invention here: The move to their own HTML5 app, which frees them from Apple’s constraints, has led to a wonderfully usable app, probably the best newspaper app out there (even has blogs offline!). Sorry, NYT Web app, you’re not there yet.

3. New packaging/curation. The Atlantic, which has become a digital pioneer over the last years recently launched the Atlantic Weekly, which is a perfect example of this. Taking the free content from the website and curating the best pieces into a weekly magazine for the iPad suddenly makes it a chargeable product. The Awl did the same a while ago, which might have inspired the Atlantic. Now I’m just waiting for Fast Company to do the same, since their website content is actually often better than their magazine content.

4. Curation of links to other interesting reading. The FT is leveraging the world’s hunger for curation by for example now having moved their the Further Further Reading section, which consists of links to non-financial market articles on other blogs, from the bottom to the top of their FT Alphaville newsletters. This is them solely acting as the trusted curator. Other wonderful newsletters do the same, including Quartz (Atlantic again) and the new PolicyMic, but the FT takes it further. As part of their engagement with the readers, I was even recently asked to mark up my thoughts on changes they’re doing to the physical paper.

For more information and thoughts on this topic, follow me on Twitter @malcmur.

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