How To Get People To Pay For Content

It's the most common question I get in my travels: Will people ever pay for content again? See what I had to say about that in a recent interview below (as posted on

Implied in the question is a belief in some yesteryear in which people did pay for content. But the good news is, they never have and never will. That's the good news? Yes, because once we stop imagining that people will someday pay for content again, we can focus on giving them what they will pay for -- access to content.

It's what people have always paid for and it's clearly what they pay for now. Look deeper into the past and you find that people did not underwrite all the pages of content in their daily newspapers. Yes, they paid for the newspaper, but that's just because the newspaper was the only way to get efficient access to that much news and information. Today, instead of paying for newspapers, they pay for high-speed data plans to their homes and on their mobile devices as well as subscriptions to content from Netflix and their cable companies, accounting for 77% of their monthly spend on content. And they will pay even more for that in the future as 4G becomes a reality. 

In all this they're not paying for data. They're paying for access to content, the data plan or the subscription just happens to be the way they do it. That's why when I'm advising a publisher or programmer, I encourage them to focus on access. Make more content available, on more devices, in the most convenient ways possible. Today, that might mean developing a beautiful iPad app for a magazine, but tomorrow that means developing a new content experience altogether, with personal clippings, recommended stories, all of it socially enhanced to reflect not just what I want to read but what my community is reading and discussing. That is a type of access, too, and it's one that goes beyond what Google can return as a search result.


what about publishers?

Your insight into the value of access, and consumers' willingness to pay for it, is intriguing and valuable, but where does that leave publishers? How can they add value to access, when they don't control the means of access?

Publishers have to grab access control where possible

Gretchen, great point. Historically, publishers all had tight and even total control of access (newsprint, magazine subscriptions, broadcast towers, etc.). Now they're moving into a world where there are more and more mediators of those experiences (Netflix, Xbox, Amazon Kindle, iPad apps). So your point is painfullly on target. However it's not too late for Publishers to influence and even control aspects of access. For example, even though a magazine publisher can't control the iPad world, it can control whether it offers synchronized content experiences across the iPad, Android, and Web worlds, placing the value one gets (and pays for) in the multi-platform access. In that scenario, you give the app away for free (depriving the app platform of some revenue and control), and charge separately for the subscription. This is exactly how Netflix does it but it's not limited to them, many publishers can and will do the same, including Disney, the New York Times, and more.

Since the early days of the

Since the early days of the internet I've always thought this. Content creators/providers must go where the money is - and overwhelmingly it is the billions flooding into accounts of ISPs and telecommunications companies building/maintaining the infrastructure. These companies would be nothing without content, but they rarely distribute any money to content creators. Merging the two is such an obvious solution I cannot understand why it hasn't happened more already. ISPs have for many years had homepages providing their own news/entertainment content, with customised settings and access menus. However how many film or record companies have got in on the act - offering content with broadband/TV deals, presented through specially designed (and un-copyable) interfaces, for a slice of the money?

Also, creators of content

Also, creators of content will need access to consumers, in the very same way companies provide customers with access to content. It seems a neat symmetry - so publishers, record companies, film production studios must move into areas that Spotify or Apple are in now, to provide a bridge (and path for money to flow) between consumer and content creator.