Could paywalls work for b-to-b?

One of the biggest publishing topics of the week was the surprising news that paywalls do work — for newspapers at least. Gannett reported that digital revenues at its local domestic publishing operations increased 76 percent due to its content subscription model. The New York Times reported 12 percent increase in paying digital subscribers.

The idea behind the paywall is that with everyone now being a publisher (brands, bloggers, social media fanatics), newspapers and other publications bring something different to the table: we have trained journalists (with a J-school background), and our quality of work is better. We are established and credible, and according to a recent study by Knowledge Networks, more Americans turn to established media to get the in-depth story on breaking news. So why shouldn’t readers pay?

With this thought, many other newspapers are following suit, including the Chicago Tribune and The Globe and Mail. So, could this apply to b-to-b? We have trained journalists. We value high-quality journalism. Our readers want our work. The short answer? Perhaps, but not the Gannett way. The long answer? Give away the news and charge for commentary and community.

While it is a noble point of view —  a view that believes good, quality journalism should be able to sustain a business; that content is not only king, but a dictator; that if readers want it, they will pay — it’s not the way publishing works these days. In fact, one of the first decisions Penske Media made after its Variety acquisition, was to drop the paywall (reports say employees cheered).

With everyone breaking news, from Joe Smith’s Twitter to Brand X’s blog, readers are looking to b-to-b for more than the “what happened?”; they are looking for the “what does this mean for me?” Readers are looking for guidance, for case studies, for community. Readers are becoming users and want to experience b-to-b’s expertise. News is easy to find, context and community is hard.

Access Intelligence approaches the paywall a different way. Its paid-access CableFax brand provides readers with hard data. Earlier this year, AI’s Folio: implemented a soft paywall, not because of its straight news content but because of its blogs, columns and case studies. In a statement, Bill Mickey said it will offer “more context and perspective” and “more voices and connectivity.” It seems like the brand wants to build fellowship.

Community might be an untapped revenue stream for some b-to-b publications. At ABM’s Executive Forum, in a session called “Creating a Community of Paid Members,” Craig Baxter managing director of HDI, United Business Media, and Michael Wolf, vice president of GigaOM, will share how they have created successful communities people want to pay for. From membership organizations to social media groups, attendees can find out how to “drive recurring revenue” by offering premium content, research and networking opportunities, which audiences are seeking out.

B-to-B can also capitalize on the specialized info they possess and sell to corporations instead of individual subscribers. What if publishers could reach a whole company? Products sold on a corporate level and licenses for multiple products can offer a high-margin, predictable revenue stream. At Executive Forum, Bill Carter, CEO of ALM, and Kevin Worth, president and CEO of the Deal, will give a crash course on how to appeal on the corporate level.

It’s true: great work brings readers, and even if readers aren’t willing to pay (through paywalls or subscriptions), readers bring advertisers — but b-to-b cannot succeed on those components alone. (According to ABM’s BIN report, advertising only makes up for half of current b-to-b revenue streams.)

With news being published on all platforms, at all times, and dwindling dollars in advertising, finding new business lines (some that can complement a paywall) is the key to b-to-b success. For more information on other potential revenue lines and Executive Forum topics, click here.

By Elizabeth A. Reid

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