The Ugly Truth about Charging for Site Content

Do you have valuable content on your website?

Well, of course you think your website content is valuable: You worked hard and/or paid a good chunk of change to get it there. But here, the definition of “valuable content” is “something your site visitors would pay for.”

Still think you have valuable content? Want to cash in?

Do Your Homework

First, the good news: It is possible to make money by charging visitors to access the content on your website (as opposed to selling your content for distribution via other websites), and it doesn’t have to be a porn site or an illegal enterprise, such as trading military secrets or stolen credit card numbers.

The bad news: It’s really, really hard.

Do your homework about what the real value of your content is in the marketplace. (Pro tip: No one, not even your mom, is going to pay to read your blog.) If you can’t do this objectively or realistically, then hire a marketing consultant to do it for you. You need to have answers to questions such as:

  • Is anyone else providing the same, or substantially similar, content? Are they charging for it? No one is going to pay you for something they can get free elsewhere.
  • Are you already giving your content away? Charging for content that you once provided for free is especially challenging and a good way to drive your visitors away.
  • How many of your current and potential visitors would pay for your content? (Whatever you think it is, it’s probably less.)
  • How much will these visitors pay for your content? (Whatever you think it is, it’s probably less.)
  • Is the market and competitive landscape stable or changing? Is it likely that a current or future competitor will undercut you by providing the same content for free?

Bottom line: You have to be providing something extraordinary that no one else is providing or likely to provide in the near future. Even then, you may have to set your price point pretty low to keep your visitors interested.

Monetization Options

So, assuming you are still convinced that you can make money from your content, how do you go about charging for it? Here are some models to consider:

  • The moat: Hide all your content behind a payment portal. Charge your customers an annual subscription or a one-time lifetime membership fee (your lifetime, not theirs). Your content needs to be especially valuable to use this model, which essentially makes customers buy your products sight unseen. Don’t let them down, or they will quickly abandon you.
  • Micropayments: If it works for mobile app developers, why not for other types of content? If enough people are willing to pay 99 cents for one of your digital content items, you’ll make a profit.
  • Ad-supported: Online advertisements may be annoying, but they are a tried-and-true method of monetizing your content without charging the end users directly. Still, you need content that will attract a lot of eyeballs because that’s what advertisers pay for.
  • Ad-supported + premium: Numerous content providers are using the dual approach of ad-supported free content, plus a subscription plan for premium content (or maybe just the same content without the ads). Be prepared to offer extras to pull customers into the premium service.
  • Free/ad-supported + physical items for sale: Offering T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, CDs or DVDs of your content, or other physical products to complement your digital fare can be a nice way to cash in without charging directly for your content. This approach requires extra work for product design, manufacturing, and distribution, but it may be worth it. Services such as CafePress bring these costs down substantially.

In any case, once you settle on a monetization model (other than the ads-only model), you will need to make sure your customers can pay for it without hassle. As more people become familiar with and accustomed to using PayPal, it is becoming the online payment service of choice. Other options are available, too. Talk to your web developer. And good luck!