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B2B publishers make money from paywalls; can consumer media do the same?


One of the main take-away truisms of the news economics debate is that the two strands of news publishing, consumer and B2B, have very differing chances of succeeding in charging readers online in the same way they do in print.

Generalist, too-big-by-half newspapers have one hell of a job on their hands converting its crafted physical page-based output to a paid online economy. Don’t expect the iPad, horrific “page-turning” digital editions or any other “page” based, print-fetishist publishing model to help much either.

For business titles, however, it’s a different story. The quick skimming of market-relevant content and data does translate to online – people in industry are generally happy to pay for their staff to be informed with latest trends and figures that could give an advantage. Or at least, that’s the theory – B2B is far from recession-proof.

All of which explains why companies like UBM and Emap are now reverting to charging readers after trying the the free-to-air route online. Not only that, the prevailing mood in those companies and elsewhere is that magazines are just one part of a complex multimedia strategy of monetising brands.

Here’s an excerpt of my interview with Emap CEO David Gilbertson for the March edition of Press Gazette (subscription only and not online):

“We’re moving the mindset of our audience, our own people and advertisers to think that this isn’t a magazine but an intelligence provider,” he says.

And it’s working, so far: new subcription rates have more than doubled on those titles, while some have seen new subscriptions and renewal rates multiply by four or five times. Gilbertson says his target is to reach an annual ten percent lift in renewal rates across the company this year.

Interestingly, Gilbertson also spoke of how the paywall can improve business journalism. Previously, news editors had to make tricky decisions about when and where to publish news: does a scoop go online immediately? Or is that compromising print subscribers? The solution is to make everything paid-for so all news is published online in real-time for subscribers. He says:

“This makes it clearer for editors to understand how to marshall content. Once you’ve got a free-to-air environment and and hard copy environment it’s quite complex, maybe even impossible to know how to treat the two surfaces from an editorial point of view”.

AS for UBM, have a read of paidContent:UK’s chat with CEO David Levin. The company is investing in things like internetevolution, which PCUK’s Ingrid describes as “an online community for tech news that aggregates blog posts, video posts and other social-media content from its own stable of writers plus contributors from the industry.”

If entertainment-based, general interest newspapers and magazines hope to repeat the success of their business cousins, they will need to replicate the content-specific relationships and products B2B titles offer. Don’t give readers – and therefore advertisers – what they might be interested in, give them what you know they’re interested in.

Update: Read the comments below for an interesting take from @simoncrobinson on how RBI is building an audience with free content and monetising it with real-time market information. RBI are just one of several publishers that are making a success of their online business model and I’m sure I’ll be writing more about them in future.

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  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    So, we’ve been charging for content since the mid-90s and we don’t rate a mention? Pshaw, Psmith. :-)

  • http://www.psmithjournalist.com Patrick Smith

    @Adders… There are a whole host of publishers I could and perhaps should have mentioned, the two I focus on have simply been in the news recently with some changes to their publishing model.

    But you are right about RBI, of course, which now makes more more money online than in print. And you raise a good point: while all this hullabaloo over whether to charge or not to charge, companies like RBI and others have simply been getting on with it.

    I also didn’t go into the events and exhibitions side of things which appears to be more important now than ever.

  • http://www.icis.com simoncrobinson

    One strategy that seems to be working is to have a combination of free content, in the shape of well crafted blogs on industry issues, a well respected magazine brand onlnine, podcasts, video etc to suck people into a paid for online news service which deals in real time market intelligence and a bunch of price reports in opaque but important markets. We have driven and are driving notable revenue growth using this model. We report very little that’s nice to know and quite a bit of must-have industry information.

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