An interesting article by David Risley titled, “Is Blogging Broken? Is The Future Of Blogging Paid Access?” stirred up some ideas I have had for a long time and generated some conversation sparked by DR and I on Twitter and Facebook. The reality is that this is not a new idea by any means. Several large bloggers including Gary Vaynerchuk have already said it is coming and there are premium, paid sections of many popular sites that produce exclusive content for a price.

The question becomes…can the blogger use this same model and apply it to blog content?

The Blurred Line: Magazines and Blogs

As we move forward with online publishing, the line between blog and online magazine is continuing to get blurred even more than in the past. Magazines are starting to look towards digital delivery and online publishing as their only way to expand business and bloggers are looking outside of traditional blogging to add more value for their readers. I wouldn’t consider Bike198 a blog in the truest definition of the word…it has really become a free online magazine.

Even my favorite magazine, Bike, is delivered to my iPad via Zinio…so where does the line cross between magazines and blogs these days anyway? One side is getting a fee for their content while the other is giving away everything for free.

Bloggers And The Free Concept

Bloggers learned a long time ago that by giving away the farm for free, you are able to grow your audience faster. With more traffic, pageviews and subscribers…you were able to command more money via direct advertising and generate more money with affiliate sales. It is the simple law of numbers…with more targeted eyes you get more money.

However, this has created one big problem within blogging…everything is free.

With the over saturation of bloggers all trying to compete for the same eyes and the readers looking for quality content but hit with an extreme amount of free content, eBooks and other free online hooks…readers have very little in the way of distinction between quality and quantity in their search for online content. In my opinion, bloggers take the “give away the farm” mentality a little bit too much to heart, so with more bloggers entering the market on a daily basis…there is a massive over saturation of content.

What does this do to the blogger?

You become a hamster in a wheel generating massive amount of content and products for free without seeing any real return. You are told it takes a lot of work and to be patient, but the competition out there is so much harder these days that you could literally spend years giving away everything for nothing. Eventually, you give up and look to other forms of income generation as that one obviously didn’t pan out.

So when do you draw the line and jump ship to a paid content model?

Reactions In and Outside of Blogging

Before we jump straight into what I think…lets take a look at a couple of reactions on the web yesterday when I posted the question to Facebook and David and I hit up Twitter.

My Facebook Comment to People Outside of Blogging:

“There have been some interesting rumblings around the blogging world about going to more “magazine style” formats. ie. subscription models. What do you think about monthly, paid subscription models to online content?”

Some of the better responses:

I’ve been wondering when blogs are going to take on a more magazine look/feel as well. I’d be more than happy to pay for content, if its good and does one of two things. Entertains me or makes me some money! Just my two cents.

Nothing personal, but I don’t think I’d pay for blog content. While many (including yours) are very informative for some things, a lot of the content may not apply to me. I think blogs are less viable as a subscription service, as now they are competing with magazines, books, etc, that have a lot more resources to provide content.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I’m not a huge blog reader (only 5-10 that I routinely read).

I’ve never been able to get into blogs- either reading or following. This is just a random thought, but I wonder if that applies to a great percentage of people who went through most of their formative years without internet/email. I was a senior in college before I had an email acct, and it was infrequently used at best. (Maybe we were behind the times, but we’re talking early 90’s.) I still prefer a hard copy, old-school magazine for lots of things. Okay, I’m definitely old. 🙂 More randomness: I subscribe to two photography websites that have everything from forums to mini-blogs. I use them mostly for the interaction with other photogs from all over the world. I doubt I’d continue to pay for them if they went to a strictly blog format with no forums and classifieds and stuff. Maybe future generations will pay for blogs without giving it a second thought…?

if they incorporated rich media and it was well organized and flashy like the magazines I would pay for specific ones

I think there’s already a ton of this out there that is similar. For example ESPN has the Insider and many newspapers have online content that is subscriber only. Almost all major magazines deliver substantial free content and many of them put their printed content online for free after awhile.

I think for it to work, the user would have to feel like they are getting some very exclusive, well developed content. It would have to go far beyond the “expert with an opinion” content that most blogs deliver. Even then, I am skeptical that it would work well. I know that I wouldn’t do it. There is too much free content to choose from and that’s not going to change any time soon.

The magazines don’t seem to be doing a terribly good job at it with falling subscriptions and struggles with finding an online model that works. I don’t see loan bloggers who typically put out less than a magazines worth of content a month can take a broken model and find success with it. Where there is a will there is a way I suppose.

Mine and David’s line on Twitter (inside the blogging world):

“Question: What would your reaction be to a high quality blog that switched from free to paid content? (2 to 3 bucks a month)”

@gracejudson: It completely depend on the *relevance* of the content – not just the quality. If I was consistently using the content – maybe.

@ericabiz: You’re way undervaluing it at $2-3/month. I wouldn’t subscribe because I would assume the info isn’t valuable…(when asked if 9-10 dollars would be enough) At least. I pay $30/mo for Doberman Dan’s. And he stopped blogging to do that, too 🙂

@Murlu: I think when people quite literally tell you they’d pay for what you just publish – you’re on to something 😀

@nhangen: they would be a goner.

@christiantjr: my initial question would be “can I get the same quality elsewhere for free?”

As you can see by the responses, they vary all over the map from basically a “hell no” to you are not even charging enough.

The Law of Numbers and Blogging Income

For a long time, the law of numbers has played a drastic affect on blog income. The more numbers you have, the more money you made. However, what if I were to tell you that you could cut your traffic and subscribers down to a 1/4 of what they are now and you will make 5 times the income? My bet…99% of you would not do it because you are conditioned to the free/high traffic model.

When you are looking at going to a paid subscription model, you are basically doing just that. As much as you would like to think that all of your readers are grasping onto your words like the gospel…that just isn’t the truth. If you were to hit the switch to a paid content model today, my guess is that 10 – 25% of your readership would participate and you would lose the rest, but if your income went up 5 fold…it would be worth it. That is when bloggers think like bloggers and not business owners. They would rather keep the large numbers at lower income than lower numbers at higher income.

The scary part…you have to hit the switch on the whole idea before you will know if it will work or not. It takes that leap of faith and testing.

Your Readers Are Already Paying For Content…Why Not Your Blog?

The reality of your situation when you are looking at moving to a paid subscription format is that you are going to have to compete with bloggers that are still giving away quality content for free. That is not going to change, so how do you battle this fierce competition?

It all comes down to the perceived value of the deliverable.

Readers are already paying for content on a daily basis. From eBooks to members only sections of websites, readers are not only paying for content…but they are paying more than you would charge as a subscription! Why is this? The perceived value of eBook content is higher than that of a blog. Every day, I sell eBooks that contain content not found on my blog that helps my readers achieve their goals. Whether it is becoming a better mountain biker or getting in free stuff to review on your blog, that content sells consistently and provides value to my customers.

Switching to a paid subscription model would be no different…except…you would have to change the delivery method. I do not think…at this time…just access to your blog can be a paid for commodity. You would have to change the deliverable of your content to something that is email driven or a PDF magazine that contains your content plus a better design that online publishing can not provide. This way you are giving more value to your customers outside of just hitting the publish button several times a week.

Just like with ESPN and other newspaper websites, you would still need to provide regular, free content on your blog to attract new readers, but the meat and potatoes would be delivered off site to your paid subscribers.

Blogging for free…even if you enjoy the hell out of it…can not live for forever. Eventually life gets in the way and you will have to cut down on your online time unless it is providing a specific value (in this case…money). As blogging continues to grow and adapt, it will have to find a way to generate income outside of the law of numbers game.

Paid subscription models might be the answer, but we will not know until the switch is hit. At that time, will the paid models be able to withstand the competition of free? My personal opinion is that question really comes down to the quality of branding, content and perceived value.

What do you think?