July 26th, 2009

FT.com Pay Model Presents Web Content Blueprint

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Pay vs. free figures to be a central decision and likely an ongoing conundrum for just about any online content provider. As online ad sales have declined in the contracting economy, such an issue only gains in importance.

That makes it essential for sites to not only consider free vs. pay access but also different potential subscription models. Fred Wilson, a New York City venture capitalist with the firm Union Square Ventures, points to the model in play at FT.com as an example for content providers who can’t survive (or even thrive) on ad revenues alone.

The site, the online home for the Financial Times, does offer some more typical subscription models, including those that marry the print and online products. Aside from that, though — according to Wilson — the site allows you a certain number of free visits each month. At a certain threshold (he believes it’s the 10th visit), FT.com asks you to pay. Wilson says that many do.

This seems somewhat similar the National Public Radio practice of seeking donations from listeners a few times a year in that it plays to a consumer’s feeling of obligation. If you find the content valuable and come back for it often, chances are you’ll feel more inclined to help cover the costs of producing that content at some point.

Wilson says this method avoids the problems of going to a full subscription model and skips the labeling of some site content as more valuable that arises with “premium” pay walls.

Decisions on how best to offer and fund online content are particularly important to today’s struggling newspaper industry, but they’re no less central to anyone trying to build a fantasy sports content outlet. Display ads aren’t paying the bills quite as easily as once anticipated, so it’s necessary to consider your range of options.