Analysis

Reader revenues? Absolutely, but what will people pay for?

The pivot to paid-content is undoubtedly a positive move for publishers, but what exactly should we be asking our audiences to buy? Peter Houston reports.

If you’re reading InPublishing, it’s probably safe to assume that you care about the future of the publishing industry. And assuming that you care, you probably welcome the signs that the industry has a new revenue stream worth embracing: you’re happy that paid-content is firmly on publishing’s radar.

It’s not exactly a new revenue stream – charging people to read what you’ve written is publishing’s original business model. But make no mistake, selling content today is very different from selling newssheets in the back of a 17th century coffee house. Those guys took the money, handed over the reading matter, and went back to their brews. Securing revenue from readers today is light years away from that.

It’s different even from the first few years of the 21st century, when subscription income still sat on a par with advertising sales for many publishers. Selling a subscription took effort; sometimes you even had to give away a book or a pen to seal the deal. But to anyone trying to navigate the complex terrain of reader revenues now, the old-school print-subscription landscape looks positively pastoral.

It’s fantastic that, as we desperately try to claw our way back from our own ad-funded Armageddon, we can get excited about the prospect of people paying for the work we do. But what exactly is it we expect them to pay for?

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