Top 5 Paid Models Worth Watching

By Steve Smith
07/10/2009

You say they won’t pay for content online? They, if we mean consumers, do indeed pony up their credit cards regularly for online content—yes, even content from magazine brands. As we gear up for our own June 21 Webinar on “Cracking the Code” of paid content, we wanted to call out five models not everyone knows about yet. Each bears watching as publishers contemplate how to make digital media pay.

1. PC Magazine Digital: Didn’t they fold that thing earlier this year, you may ask? Well, not really. Not only did Ziff Davis bring the venerable PC Magazine brand online but the publisher also offered a formatted digital magazine version of the familiar print book to current and new subscribers. We count ourselves as one of them, spending $9.97 for 12 monthly issues. ZD CEO Jason Young tells us the digi-mag continues to attract subscribers. Will they stick over time? ZD seems to have made the price low enough to qualify as an impulse buy, but it will be interesting to see if a print book can have a paid afterlife as a digital book.

2. BHG: Decorating Inspiration: This “toolbox” for home decorators includes more than 20,000 images of rooms that inspire creativity with a suite of zooming, saving and printing tools. A subscription to Better Homes magazine is tossed in as a bonus. The package is priced at $19.95 for that three-month window when many people plan and execute new projects. Creating price points and packages aimed at specific times of life or events or needs is another way to find a paying audience. If the content meets the pressing need, then the value is apparent to the consumer. Don’t just think about what users will pay for—think about when users will be eager to pay for something that at another time might not have real value for them.

3. American Patchwork and Quilting Inner Circle Club: Also part of the BHG family, this unique package includes a tangible hardcover book for quilters as well as a calendar, patterns, six issues of a newsletter, free product samples and how-to videos. The full package is $54.95, but Meredith has structured it wisely to straddle virtual and physical assets. By piling on enough freebies and “bonuses” the publisher can rightfully claim that the cost seems like a savings. Tangibility—offering something physical—is one way to get over the consumer’s reluctance to pay simply for access.

4. Men’s Health Personal Trainer: Rodale has quickly become a leader in turning content into services users will pay to get. More than half a dozen “clubs” give users access to personal training and diet advice, a community of peers for support and progress tracking tools. In most of these clubs, Rodale uses a freemium model of giving users 30 days of free access and then successfully remarketing to those who don’t continue on with the $45.50/three-month fee. The typical club member sticks with the program for nine months, or three billing cycles, and they tend to be some of the site’s best prospects for other clubs and book sales. Give users experts, a time frame, goals and the right tools, and the value becomes tangible on their bellies.

5. People Celebrity News Tracker: One of the smartest things People did with its $1.99 iPhone app is not to call it a mobile magazine. We would argue that the well-designed app of star news and celebrity indexes and images is just that—a magazine, but the “Tracker” label gives it the patina of utility. The company behind the platform, ScrollMotion, has partnered with Hearst, Harvard Business Review and Condé Nast to bring numerous other magazine brands to the iPhone, and almost all will involve a paid component. The subscription and incremental payment options within iPhone apps are about to change the way publishers think about mobile revenue streams in particular, and perhaps all digital models for paid content.

These are just a few of the many instances of pay models we find every week. In coming weeks we will be assembling more examples of magazine and other content brands actively selling the goods online. We invite publishers to submit some of their well-hidden pay-to-play products so we can build a comprehensive catalog of paid content models that work. And on June 21 executives from Consumer Reports, Harvard Business Review, Cygnus Business Media, and ScrollMotion will be sharing their experience selling the media goods.