Ever since The New York Times took down its paywall and started giving away it’s news for free there has been a deathwatch on a number of other paywalls constructed by old school publishers. For the most part I can totally understand the logic behind freeing up content (more traffic, more advertising dollars). With daily news there is just so much competition, so many other sources available for free, that making users pay is something approaching suicide.
Still, with regard to magazines I can’t say I’m so quickly sold on the free idea. Not that magazines shouldn’t develop free content – they absolutely should – and they should develop a lot of it. Magazine web sites should be the entry point into the worlds their titles cover… free tastes of the lifestyle they offer. Magazines need to be creating free content on the web, by the web and for the web: video, quick text (reviews, blogs – micro or mobile), event logistics, community forums, and real-time, news oriented communications.
What magazines need to steer clear of – what runs the highest risk of devaluing there traditional revenue streams the fastest – is mirroring their print product on the web. This is not to say that print content shouldn’t be on the web… just that publishers should think long and hard before they open the flood gates and let loose a stream of printcentric content in to the digital wilderness.
The best route for magazine publishers may just be to develop and market print content as a premium. Instead of giving away the content of the magazine on the web, why not try to differentiate the print object? Why not accentuate what it does best? Why not feature long reads, incredible photography, sophisticated typography, and innovative design as an offline lust object?
So if you’re a magazine publisher and you’re currently thinking about setting your content free… stop. Take a big breath, and think this through. Might there be a better way? Does it have to be all or nothing?