Want users to pay for content? Work harder, publishers told

A new set of research data released by CloudSense has revealed that the trend for users accessing free news content is inexorable – and concludes publishers need to do more to monetise their content.

The research, which gauged the views of 4000 UK and US consumers, found some interesting differences. Even though far more US consumers are prepared to subscribe to content (24% compared to 7% UK), the overall trend is the same worldwide: users are reluctant to pay.

Of course, this has been a problem for publishers ever since the dawn of the Internet. Concepts come and go – native advertising, advertorial, sponsored content, call it what you like, is making its latest comeback – yet there’s not been one big silver bullet for the industry.

This, of course, is why the ad tech business is so lucrative – and why each ad tech vendor claims to be ‘unique’ in its press materials. What makes things worse is that users want a free lunch, but won’t budge in accepting even slightly invasive banner advertising.

A recent study from Ebuzzing found that users want the best of both worlds. Given the hypothetical opportunity of having an ad-free browsing experience, but having to pay around £140 for the privilege – an ad tax, if you will – a whopping 98% of UK web users said no.

The concept here is an interesting one. In the UK we pay a similar figure per year so the BBC doesn’t have to rely on advertising – yet for web publishers and content providers, it’s a different ball game entirely.

The CloudSense study has similar figures. Only a third (34%) of UK respondents said they accept advertising around content. 73% of consumers overall happily pay nothing to access digital media sites. This number rises sharply to 88% for UK consumers, and drops to 59% for US, but regardless, if the customer is always right, then this leaves media house execs scratching their heads.

Ebuzzing’s study looked at ad avoidance strategies. The majority (63%) of those polled without ad blocking software said they skip an advert as quickly as possible. Many vendors, such as TV Catchup and Channel 4, put an ‘ad-blocker blocker’ in place to counteract this. If an advert can’t be skipped, well, we have contingency plans. Users try muting the sound – although you can’t do that on platforms such as Spotify – scrolling away from the video, or even opening a new browser.

It’s clearly a battle of wills. Don’t like paying for content? We’ll give you adverts. Don’t like adverts? We’ll force them onto you. This, of course, is not a new concept. Famously, the National Grid would expect a surge around primetime TV advertising breaks for the thousands of viewers putting the kettle on for a cup of tea. Anything to avoid watching the advert itself.

Some companies play the game and get ahead. The US band Vulfpeck released an album consisting of 30 second silent tracks onto Spotify, and urged its fanbase to play it on loop while they slept. As Spotify counts a 30 second playing of a song as a hit, it seemed the perfect crime. The band raised $20,000 from its exploits.

Whether you’re playing the ball or playing the man, innovation is key. Take ad tech startup Adpoints. They offer an incentivisation scheme – if you watch videos and give feedback, you get Nectar shopping points. It is about a battle of wills, but a bit of give and take doesn’t go amiss.

“The aim of the survey was to find out exactly how media is being consumed in order to provide publishers and media houses with insights on how people view subscriptions and paywalls,” said CloudSense CEO Richard Britton.

“It’s clear from the results that publishers have much pressing work to do in creating a positive online user experience and to develop exciting, new reasons for readers to subscribe or made ad-hoc payments,” he added.

“Publishers still face a huge challenge when it comes to monetising online media.”

Despite the gloomy outlook, there are of course some success stories. The Financial Times has seen a 13% rise in subscribers year on year according to The Guardian. As Peter Preston points out: “The FT is in a special place and holds a special position. It shows signs of a real transition from print to digital.” The New York Times and The Daily Mail, with differing models – paywall versus standard advertising – are also successful.

It’s worth noting the most popular response for consumers in the CloudSense was to accept advertising around the content, followed by registering for free, accepting advertising before the content, much like Forbes does, then paying for a subscription.

MarketingTech argues the case for content being the key, whether it’s quality, like the FT, or quantity, that the Daily Mail prefers. Not every model will work with every publication, but it’s patently clear that your content has got to be pretty special to get an audience to willingly part with their money – and generic ads won’t cut it either. Whatever you do – it’s time to be proactive. Play your hand, or get off the pot.

Read more: CISAC’s Eric Baptiste: Why intellectual property is a universal, human rights concept

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