Consumer Reports, Sporting News tinker with paid content models


Publishers continue to experiment with paid content models – even paywall pioneer Consumer Reports, which has been charging for online content since 1997.

Consumer Reports, which has 3.3 million paid online subscribers (about 750,000 of which are shared with the magazine’s 4 million print subscribers), is putting the finishing touches on its first native iPad app. The publisher is also exploring new ways to sell its proprietary content beyond the subscription model, according to Jerry Steinbrink, vice president of publishing for Consumer’s Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

Steinbrink spoke on a panel about paid content at the OMMA Global conference in New York on Tuesday, joined by a high-profile lineup of media executives, including Gordin Crovitz, co-founder of Journalism Online; Jeff Price, president and publisher of the Sporting News; Ken Doctor, industry analyst with Outsell and author of “Newsonomics”; and Sam Shrauger, vice president of global product strategy for PayPal. The panel was moderated by Kathryn Koegel, marketing lead for Primary Impact.

The Consumer Reports iPad app won’t simply be a replica of the print magazine, Steinbrink said. “We’re finding that users are expecting more than just a magazine, so we’re adding interactivity,” he said. More broadly, Consumer Reports sees the iPad as a platform for developing new products.

“We have a lot of deep testing information, and analytics on how we test, so we’re looking at how we can translate this content to the new platform,” he said, adding that the company will probably develop “4 or 5 products” for the iPad.

As it builds out its tablet strategy, Consumer Reports will continue to tinker with the paid model on its website as well. Despite a robust online subscription business, the company is looking at pricing models for piecemeal content – DVD player reviews, for example.

“We want to sell whatever consumers want to buy, in whatever slice they want to take it,” Steinbrink said. “We’re working day and night to develop individual content slices.”

The key for Consumer Reports is experimentation – a concept reinforced by the other panelists.

“Smarter companies are doing modeling to see where the levers are in people’s brains” that determine how much they are willing to pay for certain types of content, said Doctor. “In news, you can charge where something is proprietary,” he said, citing the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and Consumer Reports as having unique, high-value – and therefore monetizable – content. But a small weekly newspaper, serving as the only source of news for a town, could also be considered worth paying for, he said.

The best way to determine the right paid content model, according to Crovitz, “is to let the consumers decide what they value.” Journalism Online’s Press+ platform lets publishers experiment with metering and other paid content models to determine the best fit for a particular audience. The right model could be built around local news, or obituaries, or high school sports, or local government, Crovitz said.  A metering system, he suggested, will enable users to decide which content they’re willing to pay for.

For Sporting News, the answer lies in niche content (sports) packaged and delivered in a way that delivers a unique experience for certain user types.

“There’s a lot of free sports content out there,” said Price. “But given the way the tablet market is evolving, we saw an opportunity with commuters, business travelers and even college students,” said Price. SportingNews, which already sells a digital edition through Zinio, created a new app, priced at $2.99 a month, that delivers a roundup of the previous day’s sports coverage every morning. “It provides utility that people will pay for,” he said. “We’ve had success by identifying a niche that was looking for a packaged experience at less than 10 cents a day.”

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