New York Times and Paid Content

The New York Times has announced a new paid content model for their online content. The announcement is here:

A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions – NYTimes.com.

The upshot is that occasional website visitors will not have to pay for anything but people who read many articles online with the Times will be asked to pay after using up a monthly free quota of content.

There has been a lot of hue and cry about this, just like there was when they tried to charge for their opinion content way back in 2005 or 06. Here is my take:

Any company like the NYT can be successful with a paid content model. The problem with this change is that they are removing content from their most loyal readers online. They are not offering anything new to their best prospects, they are removing what draws them in the first place It is also rather complicated which will suppress sales a bit.

Why not offer new value to your most voracious online readers and charge for that? The Wall Street Journal does just that with the top end of their online subscription options, providing new in depth content in focused areas. I might pay for an online subscription that provided access to more photos for each article (or the NYT’s photo archive, which is massive), podcast interviews with reporters on the ground where the news is happening, etc. Use what you have to create new offerings that you’ve never provided before but can scale in the online world.

Getting people to pay for something they already had for free is simply a tough row to hoe when there was no expectation set of that free access being temporary.

Example of Providing Options Beyond Basic Online Subscription

I made a short screencast of the Wall Street Journal’s website today, WSJ.com, looking at the subscription pricing model the publisher has in place. There is a great lesson here for associations about offering premium options that give new value to those who purchase it without inherently devaluing the base subscription.

Micro Payments, Micro Profit?

The only way to make significant revenue with micro payments is to get an awful lot of them.

Any questions? :)

OK, I’ll say a bit more about my rationale for that position.

I work with a lot of membership organizations and the idea of micro payments is often very appealing to their leaders. They provide a very low price point on some products which they can point to when members complain about overall prices of products. It’s also quite trendy, with high profile examples like Kiva.com leading the way with that business model for micro-lending.

Let’s take a look at the math for a hypothetical association. Let’s say they are a scientific society with 20,000 members who pay $399 a year to join. We’ll use them as our pre-qualified base of prospects for a micro-payment product.

Evernote, the very popular note taking application that works on almost anything with a chip and a screen, recently shared some stats. Shortly after they started up, about 1% of their free users converted to paying customers.

If we take a mirco-priced product at $1.00 and 1% of our hypothetical base makes the purchase, then you end up with this:

(20,000 * 1%) * $1.00 = $200.00

Compare that revenue to what they get in membership dues:

20,000 * $399.00 = $7,980,000.00

The organization will literally waste more in jammed paper in their printers than they would make on this single micro-priced product. This is before taking into account the costs of producing the product and implementing micro payments, online access, etc.

Hell, having a single staff meeting to discuss this product already puts it in the hole!

This association would need a base market of about 2,000,000 people to make the revenue even slightly interesting with these assumptions. They still need a lot more people in that market even if you bump up the price and the conversion rate.

Other issues with micro payments include:

  • They must be frictionless to complete (think texting to donate to the Red Cross for Haiti, for example).
  • Products with micro prices are often perceived as low value by your prospective buyers.
  • You’ll often need a wide array of micro-priced products rather than just one to have the level of sales you need to create significant revenue.
  • Repackaging content from other sources into micro-priced chunks often requires selling it to an entirely different, and larger, market.

The only exceptions I might make for developing micro payments if you don’t have a large enough market include:

  • It serves a political or policy need that provides enough value beyond cash revenue;
  • People who purchase the micro-priced product are great candidates for macro priced products that you then sell to them (classic loss leader transactions).

I’m sure someone somewhere in the association world has done a successful micro payment model. (Let me know about it in the comments if you have!) But every leader and product manager must go into the decision making process with a realistic understanding of the numbers involved before committing resources to implement this model.

One Onion, Remove the Drupal and add Some Django

Seth Gottlieb wrote a great post looking at The Onion moving from one open source CMS to another.

One driver is that The Onion has developers on staff, which strongly influenced the systems that were attractive to them above and beyond the content management features. Seth points out their prior platform encouraged not tinkering with code under the hood while the new one is very code-centric. They also have an insane amount of traffic, which created a unique situation as well.

Good reading if you are into content management.

Why You Need a Content Management System

I was asked this question recently and thought I would post an answer here. I’d like to share some core reasons for having a content management system (CMS) as well as one new one that should seal the deal if nothing else will.

Core Reasons

  • Separation of presentation and content. Design can be changed without touching the content. Content can be added or changed without touching the design. This enables specialists to focus on what they do best rather than having to be a Web generalist to modify the site.
  • Content management. The eponymous value! Since content is stored as data, the system can provide tools for reporting and analyzing your content across the site which is immensely helpful in keeping content up-to-date as well as simply knowing what you have in place. The more content you have, the more valuable this becomes.
  • User management. In most systems you can create separate logins for each person who needs to work on the site and limit what they can do based on specific roles or rules. This allows you to move to a model of distributed publishing, where content experts work on their content and web experts work on the overall site.
  • Dynamic content presentation. While implied by the separation of presentation and content above, I wanted to highlight that this arrangement opens up new ways of driving traffic to content. It allows you to have the site display content based on content data or user data. Think of how Amazon.com shows products related to the one you are viewing on their site as well as suggesting products based on your purchase history with them. This is dynamic presentation.

There is more to it than that (such as web-based systems allowing you to update the site from anywhere) but most features are some mix of the above. Running a site without a CMS today is like writing a book on an old Selectric typewriter. You could do it but why in the world would you want to?

New Reason

Two words: social media.

If you wish to have a site that encourages collaboration, sharing and participation, the main elements of social media, then you will need to have a CMS in place that can sustain those types of activities. In fact, many of the open source CMSs on the market have strong roots in the social media world.

Implementing social media features on a site not built with a CMS of some fashion would be near impossible.

Questions to ask when you run the website.

Good news! You are now in charge of the website!

Now what?

Here are a few critical questions to consider when you take over the website. Discuss these with your team, your boss, and your peers.

How well does the site support our strategic outcomes?
What is your organization trying to achieve? How much of a contribution is the site making to those goals? What more could it do to provide value?

This is the first thing you have to understand before you can really do anything significant with the site.

Which segments of our target markets are the most relevant for us online?
Of all the markets your organization serves, which are the most relevant to your online goals? How well does your site target and serve those people?

Attracting welders to a knitting site probably doesn’t do anyone much good. Make sure your site has the right audience. If it doesn’t, you have a great opportunity to have a tremendous impact by getting the right people to the site.

Do we have the tools, technology and skills to execute effectively on our current goals?
Does your content flow freely to the site without errors or revisions? Do you have process bottlenecks? Are some things that should be simple to achieve highly complex?

As the new leader of the website, you have an opportunity to spot problems that have become invisible to everyone else yet are a big drag on productivity. Fixing some of these right off the bat is often relatively easy and gives you some early wins for your team and organization.

Does your new responsibility signal a great shift that the site must reflect?
Big picture: does your new role signal a broader change in the organization? If so, make sure you consider how that new high-level direction can be best supported by your team and website.

Get a mentor.
Finally, be sure you have a mentor or two to help you explore and master this new job. A mentor can be your boss, another internal leader, a colleague or someone outside the organization. The key thing is to have someone who will ask the tough questions of you to make sure you are focused on creating results and executing effectively to do so.

I offer coaching and mentoring to web and IT leaders if you desire an independent, external, source of feedback and advice.

Serving Current Users in a New Site

Last week I was asked about how to handle current users who may be confused or frustrated by a redesigned site that has a new layout, navigation, etc. Ideally the new site will be easier to use for all concerned but for people who learned the old site, there will still be a learning curve.

From my perspective, the best path to resolve this issue really depends on what your current audiences come to the site for and if you will continue to support those same outcomes with the new one.

If you have people who regularly come to your site to complete a specific task or get a piece of content, and you will continue to support those outcomes, you can make sure to still facilitate those actions even in a redesigned site. Ideally the new design will facilitate those well but you can also make a set of custom pages for specific audience segments that guide them to the new location of these items. These pages can be promoted directly or provide as a highlighted help tool for a period of time after the launch of the new site.

On the other hand, if the site will serve entirely new outcomes, then your audiences will have no choice but to learn the site anew and there is not much you can do to avoid that.

Extreme Separation of Content Management and Presentation

Seth Gottlieb, of Content Here, posts some very good points about the extent to which you should separate the management of your content from the systems that actually publish them for your online audiences.

However, as I have warned in earlier posts, the flexibility may not be worth the cost for all publishers. Unless your business model depends on aggressively leveraging your content and you can afford to play on the cutting edge, a lighter weight “website in a box” style architecture may give you the flexibility you need without the additional complexity and cost of building and integrating these de-coupled systems.

In short, you have to balance elegant engineering with the value of the outcomes you are pursuing with your web site. If you are in the content publishing business and are of sufficient size, then extreme separation can pay off in a significant way. Outside of those two conditions, a pursuit of architectural elegance may actually be counter productive for your needs without sufficient return on the big investment it requires.

Landing Pages: Don't Forget to Cut off the Crusts!

A landing page is a web page created solely to support traffic that is inbound from an e-mail or online promotion.

Landing pages are optimized for the audience you anticpate sending to them, sporting tailored content that helps the prospect to take whatever your desired next action is.

They are a critical tool for online marketing.

One thing that many people forget about them is that the best landing pages have the crust cut off. Let me explain what I mean here.

My two daughters will not eat a PB&J unless the crusts are cut off the sandwich. Removing the crusts lets them focus on the yummy goodness in the middle. You should do the same with your landing pages.

Most content on your site sport a variety of navigation tools, promotions, and other links around the perimeter of the page. This gives the user lots of options for navigating to their next page. However, with a landing page, you only want the visitor to take one specific next action. Therefore, you should cut the crusts off your landing pages, removing this extraneous navigation and content from the edges of the page.

Crust-less landing pages keep the visitor focused on the specific messages you want them to read and the next step you wish them to take. Note that on Amazon.com when you enter the payment process, all of the navigation goes away. Same concept is at play here.

Cut off the crusts and watch your conversion rate improve!