A View from Jason Pontin
Technology Review’s Strategy for Paid Editorial and Subscriptions
What we’ll charge for, and why.
One year ago, I wrote a much-linked and discussed blog that prescribed “How to Save Media.”
I conceded that the modes of business that had sustained publications for 300 years were vanishing, but I rejected the notion that no one knew how to turn contemporary media companies into sustainable businesses. I wrote:
“There are plenty of stupid publishers and editors, and their publications will die; but there are many smart, technology-savvy leaders, too, and their publications will prosper. While the details are still debated, the broad outlines of tomorrow’s media are becoming clearer. Consumers must pay for more of what they read; publishers and the media buyers who purchase advertising must be given technologies that will make online display ads more competitive with the keyword ads that search firms sell.”
I was very specific about the kinds of editorial for which readers would pay:
“Editors can charge readers for content that is uniquely intelligent; that relies on proprietary data, investigation, or analysis; that helps readers with their jobs, investments, or personal consumption; or that is very expensively designed. Everything else should be available for free, because it is news or opinion, which are commodities and must be offered up to the aggregators, social networks, and feeds. Such content can be monetized (to use the ugly jargon of our industry) only through traffic, which drives ad impressions.”
I promised we would implement new strategies and create new products based on the principles I described.
For the last year we’ve experimented with a pay-wall for archived editorial, and we’ve learned a lot. Based on how our readers used that pay-wall and the principles I described in “How to Save Media,” we’ve devised a strategy for paid editorial and subscriptions. I’m pretty certain that what we’re developing will work for niche, thought-leader media companies like Technology Review (I make no claims that our strategy would work for general-interest newspapers). But I lay out Technology Review’s new policies below because I want to know what you, our readers and colleagues in publishing, think. We’ll amend our policies based on what you tell us.
We plan to launch the new strategy (and the products with which it is associated) in the late fall of this year.
Here is what we’re going to do.
Our overarching philosophy is simple:
1. News, news-like editorial such as blogs, and multimedia should be “Free Editorial.”
2. Editorial that has a higher value to readers and a longer currency is “Premium Editorial” and must be paid for by readers.
3. Editorial that is free on one platform should be free on all publishing platforms.
4. Editorial that is paid on one platform should be paid on all platforms.
5. Subscription and per-story prices should be comparable across all platforms.
Some further words on this distinction between Free and Premium Editorial. One way to think about it is: if Free Editorial will be our daily news, blogs, photo essays, and video (around 70 to 80 percent of our editorial), then Premium Editorial will be everything else. It’s important to understand that Premium Editorial is not a fancy way of talking about the print magazine or the digital magazine on our various electronic platforms. Both Free and Premium Editorial stories will be individually spotlighted on all our electronic platforms in a variety of ways, and will appear in story scrolls such as the “Rivers of News.” Finally, there will be Premium Editorial that can be read on our electronic platforms, but which will never appear in our print magazine or digital edition–for instance, the company profiles, econometric data, charts, and infographics of the Business Channel.
Premium Editorial stories will be clearly distinguished with icons and graphical design cues like fonts and layouts.
Each publishing platform demands a slightly different implementation of our strategy. I describe them in detail below.
The Web: A flexible meter, allowing readers access to a variable number of Premium Editorial stories for free per month. The metered number will be adjusted according to the relative strength of demand by advertisers for page impressions versus audience demand for Premium Editorial. When a reader clicks upon the link to a Premium Editorial story, if he or she is not logged in or has never logged in before, he or she will be prompted to log in to technologyreview.com by providing a minimal amount of information: a username and password. After a reader has reached the monthly story limit, he or she will be asked to pay for the story, a package of seven stories, or a digital subscription (see below).
The Mobile Web: As above.
Digital Subscription: Access to all the Premium Editorial on the Web, plus e-mail delivery six times a year of the digital edition of Technology Review magazine, plus access on the Web to all our archives, dating back to 1899. Digital subscribers will be counted as part of our circulation “rate-base,” because the larger our rate-base, the higher the return from the advertising sold next to Premium Editorial stories.
Print: Delivery six times a year of the print edition of Technology Review, plus access to all the Premium Editorial on the Web, including our archives, dating back to 1899. Print subscribers will not be e-mailed a digital subscription to the magazine unless they pay an additional sum.
iPad: The app, available through the iTunes store, will itself be free. Readers will have access to all our Free Editorial. When a reader attempts to read a Premium Editorial story, he or she will be prompted to log in to technologyreview.com, and will be asked to pay for the story, a package of seven stories, or a digital subscription. On the iPad, the digital magazine is not delivered through e-mail, but directly to the platform. Readers will have access on the Web to all our archives, dating back to 1899.
iPhone: As above for the iPad, except: On the iPhone, when a reader chooses to read a Premium Editorial story, we will deliver it in the iPhone news format: no one is going to read a long story on the iPhone in a traditional Web or digital magazine layout. But for the sake of consistency, and so that we can count our iPhone readers as part of our circulation rate-base, we will still deliver a digital magazine to the iPhone. As with the iPad, on the iPhone, the digital magazine will not be delivered through e-mail, but directly to the platform. Readers will have access on the Web to all our archives, dating back to 1899.
Plastic Logic Que: As demanded by the vendor.
Google Android: We don’t know enough about Android as a publishing platform to make many definite plans, but our app is likely to be informed by our experiences with the iPad. We’d hope to launch an Android app early in 2011.
A final note about friction: when readers encounter the meter, there should be as little difficulty as possible. We will collect the minimum information we need to manage the meter. When a reader pays for Premium Editorial, we will prompt him to more fully complete his profile as a member of the Technology Review community, and we will use the information we collect for smart, targeted marketing purposes.
Readers, colleagues: tell me what works and doesn’t work about this strategy.