Content compensation – it’s not a one-size-fits-all business

Today’s consumers have grown accustomed to having choices. Almost every product and service now comes in many variations, and can be purchased in multiple ways – from ‘cash only’, to debit or credit cards, PayPal or Apple Pay. So why is digital content any different?

For many publishers, a single payment option tends to be norm, with advertising being the go-to, default strategy. The digital publishing industry is facing a number of potentially fatal challenges and while it may be easier to proceed with the path of advertising as the sole means of compensation, publishers are missing a potentially great opportunity by not providing users with the choices they’ve become accustomed to in all other areas of their lives.

In the era of infinite choice, users are increasingly less willing to accept a one-size-fits-all approach – and online content consumption is no exception. To connect with audiences and achieve sustainable monetisation, it’s time for publishers to consider a more diverse, mutually beneficial approach to user engagement.

Conveying the value exchange

An increasing number of publishers already recognise the need to build awareness of the digital content value exchange among their audience and a growing number are opting to do so via direct communication, explaining that digital content – whether through advertising or alternate means – must be paid for.

For example, last year, The Guardian published a request for users to pay a subscription fee to fund its in-depth coverage of Brexit and the evolving political landscape — a message now repeated across the site via in-page messages. At the start of 2017, The New York Times took a similar route, as it began serving a pop-up to small groups of ad block users that advised; “the best things in life aren’t free […] advertising helps fund our journalism.”

But are publishers falling into the same one-size-fits-all trap with their audience messaging? Typically only one compensation option is offered as an incentive for users to engage with content but audiences consist of individuals with unique interests, needs, and circumstances, and they visit sites for different reasons. Some may be regular readers, while others might be first time visitors enticed by a social media share – it’s unlikely all users will want to support content in the same way, and they shouldn’t be expected to do so.

Compensation models must accommodate choice if publishers are to secure audience buy in.

Giving audiences flexible choices

The rise of flexible options in other industries is clear. Streaming and bundled entertainment services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify demonstrate the potential gains to be had by offering choice – whether it be enjoying free, ad-supported content or purchasing premium, ad-free services. It’s apparent that choice needs to become the standard for publishers, both in the range of content they create and the compensation options they offer.

By adopting a technology framework with the capacity to support varied compensation models and serve customisable messages, publishers can enable individuals to select the method that suits them best, and in doing so, initiate a positive conversation. These options might include accepting advertising in exchange for free content access, making micropayments to view specific content, or purchasing a set subscription package.

It is also worth noting that consent should be an integral element of this process. Opting-in is becoming increasingly important to online audiences and publishers, not only because the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is now less than a year from implementation, but it also makes the process more transparent. By plainly explaining compensation methods to users and gaining clear consent, publishers will build a bond of trust that strengthens relationships, understanding, and willingness to support online content.

Digital publishing is still a relatively young industry that’s finding different ways to engage audiences, but it’s growing up fast. To avoid getting into bad habits that are hard to break, publishers must recognise the necessity of creating an open, flexible, and mutually beneficial exchange with each and every user. Only by moving away from one-size-fits-all methods and towards transparent, choice-driven conversations can they make sustainable connections that keep monetisation — and consumer confidence — strong.

Ben Barokas, Co-founder and CEO of Sourcepoint