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The reader must pay!

James Evelegh's editorial from today's edition of InPubWeekly.

By James Evelegh

The reader must pay!

At last week’s AOP Convention, Juan Señor and Nic Newman presented a compelling case for news providers switching from an ad-funded model to a reader-funded one. I paraphrase: For too long, news providers have laboured under the illusion that advertising would pay the bills in the digital era. It won’t. Yes, digital advertising has grown massively but Facebook and Google are taking it all. They are basically eating our lunch, and by providing them with our great content, we’re giving it to them on a plate. We’ve been suckered into becoming little more than white label content providers.

There is an essential truth which news publishers have lost sight of: money is made where the article is viewed. We need to turn the tables, so that our content is viewed on our sites with proper payment being made – that needn’t necessarily be monetary, it could be in the form of registration data.

The migration to reader-funded models is a journey. It needn’t involve binary choices. 3% of your unique visitors will auto-convert and you need to devise a strategy for the rest, which will inevitably involve a wall! The strategy might include: an allocation of free articles, a datawall to capture registration data and a paywall; the publisher’s task is to move people through the sales funnel. All classic marketing stuff. This route still allows for considerable opportunities to sell advertising, and by moving to verifiable eyeballs, as opposed to anonymous ones, those opportunities might be even be enhanced. The process of feeding the tunnel never ends, a bit like painting the Forth Bridge, but a likely equilibrium point is where 40% of news publisher revenues come from readers.

Publishers are losing money and losing trust. They need to start the journey to a reader-revenue future. Today’s a good time to start.