April 23, 2018 Katherine Haas

Charging for Digital Content vs. Granting Free Access

We’re all in business to make money—that’s a given. To make money, you charge consumers for a product, a service or knowledge that they need or want, but that they cannot (or do not want to) produce on their own. In the digital realm, however, charging is not the only option—and it may not always be the best one. Considering charging for digital content vs. granting free access, you must take into consideration what brings the most value to your consumers—and what will keep them wanting more.

When would a business be deciding between a paywall and free access?

A paywall is what you set up when you want to charge users to access your digital content. It prevents them from being able to access it until they pay a prescribed amount. Unless you establish a paywall, internet users can access your online content for free, (which may be what you want).

The digital content in question could be an individual video or video series, photography and graphics, written literature such as a news article, or even your website itself. These days, it is less likely for businesses to block an entire website. The majority of websites are not doing so, and therefore it could make them look bad compared to the competition.

Deciding between charging for content vs. granting free access is not always completely black and white. It’s a debate that has raged on since the internet’s earliest days. News outlets, for example—already part of a struggling industry—continue to waver between whether to charge for the consumption of media or to provide it gratis. In that instance, the tension exists between those who believe online users have a right to the content and those who believe they should support the organizations providing it by paying for it.

Whether or not a paywall is right for your business’ content depends on too many factors to delineate right from wrong across all scenarios. Here, we’ll look at the pros and cons of charging for content vs. granting free access to help you make a decision.

Charging for content

  • Pros
    • You make money each time a user opts to consume your content.
    • It often legitimizes your content and paints it more professionally. Think about a paid dating app vs. a free dating app. Which one do you think of as being more credible?
    • You can feel justified in providing the entire gamut of content since the user paid for it. This gives you incentive to enhance the quality of the content you are putting out there, which in turn associates your business with a quality product.
  • Cons
    • Some users will immediately turn away upon encountering a paywall. This could include loyal customers that otherwise would have patronized your business outside of the digital realm.
    • The users who do pay for your content may not go beyond that. The ultimate goal is to drive consumers to patronize your business, but if they felt that they got all that they needed from the content behind they paywall, they may not pursue you further.
    • The money you make from a paywall may not offset the money you would have made with advertisers who would rather advertise on a free site.

Granting free access

  • Pros
    • Your content will naturally garner more organic traffic. If people are not hindered by a paywall, they will likely spend more time on your site. It will also not deter already loyal customers.
    • Considering the content you are providing is more limited than what you would offer with paid access, it will drive consumers who like what they see to pursue your business further.
    • By not charging for your digital content, you may be able to justify charging more for your product or service elsewhere.
  • Cons
    • Compared to a paywall, you do not make any money for the consumption of your content.
    • Your content may be perceived as lower quality for the sole fact that it is being offered for free.
    • If your end goal is to have customers calling you on the phone or walking into your business, then you will not want to give everything away for free online. Thus, a con to granting free access is the fact that it could lower the number of actual leads approaching your business.

Your industry, the type of content you are offering, the nature of your customer base and more can all play into whether charging for content vs. granting free access will prove more beneficial for your business. In either scenario, you have specialized knowledge that you want to disseminate and that you intend to get compensated for at some point along the way—whether it is upon first access or later down the line.

If you need help deciding between charging for your content or offering it for free, the McNutt & Partners team has worked with clients in both scenarios across a variety of mediums. Contact us today at 334-521-1010, or visit our contact page.

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