I wear two very different hats in my day job, part of my time I spend working as a internet marketing consultant on SEO projects but a significant proportion on of my time is spent producing the iTunes most popular marketing podcast and it associated premium subscription service.
I have spent a little time in the consumer publishing world prior to getting into internet marketing but I’ve learnt more about online publishing while setting up our own paywall, and I think if I were to start again I’d be looking for inspiration from buskers rather than Murdoch and Co’s experiments with The Daily or The Times Paywall.
Is it possible to have a closer connection to your audience than a busker? as you play your songs you quickly get feedback on whether what you’re doing is working. If their coins dropping in the guitar case you’re on the right track, if not your missing the mark.
As internet publishers we can get exactly that kind of feedback with analytics and conversion tracking but are we agile enough to take that insight and instantly respond? We’ve learn’t a huge amount setting up our premium subscription site by fortunate accident. I’d assumed downloadable-printable documents would be top of people’s wish lists when the data showed that our how-to screen capture demonstrations were far more popular, That knowledge enabled us to change what we delivered and how we promoted ourselves. Much in the same way a busker will get a feel for what is working well.
A few years ago in Prague me and a few friends found an excellent busker who was doing an amazing job of entertaining slightly inebriated British tourists (a target market which at that moment in time I was a perfect example of) Initially we’d bunged the chap a few coins as is customary. Spotting us a customers with potential (i.e. tipsy enough to be very generous) he asked us for a request. Not only did he play the song, he also invited us to join in. Which we did with gusto, a few songs later not only had he got his original contribution but also sold us a CD each. I used to be quite involved in the music industry and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he made more money on a saturday night that most middle league bands make from a whole UK tour.
But enough of my drunken adventures, what can this teach us about digital publishing? Well he clearly had spotted a market and appreciated what they required. Once he’d convinced them to part with some cash, he invited them to be involved in the content. That permission with cash and involvement in the outcome made the up-sell stupidly easy.
It’s an approach we’ve found works a treat in digital publishing.
One area that really frustrates me about most people’s analysis of The Times paywall is conjecture about how their traffic has fallen. Of course it’s fallen they’ve taken something they gave away for free and started charging… I think their biggest mistake is trying to be something that appeals to everyone, a mistake they’ve repeated with The Daily. A busker knows that the ratio between people who walk by and don’t notice isn’t going to be skewed in the direction they’d hope. They also realise not every person who appreciates what they do will make a monetary contribution but a small fraction will. These are the people who decide if you’re a success or failure.
The best media businesses in the future will be about serving a small number of people something they truly value rather than a selling to a much larger number with a weaker connection to what they are purchasing. If anything the topic we cover are too diverse, with many areas of internet marketing; which is why I think many paywalls are destined to fail.
The four piece band aren’t going to make four times as much cash as the solo busker. This means if you want the cash to amount to something substantial you’re better of going alone. In the world of digital publishing it’s hard for one person to do everything but the less of you there are the more likely you are to make any profit. Digital publisher need small teams to make the sums add up, which is why I think lean start up business/soloprenuers are going be the ones really making waves in the future.