Monitoring the Health of Paid Content for Physicians

My latest column for Jupitermedia’s marketing site ClickZ is online. It examines how the New England Journal of Medicine is publishing paid online content. My thanks to the quite competent Kent Anderson of NEJM and to my clients, the trustees of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, who introduced me to him.

A reader this morning phoned me to ask why my column mentioned Consumer Reports as a good case study of paid content when that publication only sells its contents online by subscription. She’s right, CR isn’t a good case. It’s OK that CR sells its online contents by monthly or annual subscriptions. Its publisher wants to have a recurring online revenue stream and he has gotten one this way.

However, people read CR because they want to buy an item, not for the sake of reading CR. In addition to selling by subscription, CR should sell online articles by item. Because CR currently sells a monthly (automatically renewed) subscription for US $4.95, it should sell individual articles for two-thirds that price, say $3 a piece.

My caller, who works in the microtransaction field, belives that CR could increase its revenues by a magnitude this way. I don’t know about a magnitude, but I believe that CR could certainly double or triple its revenues this way. There is a sizable online audience who would like to know CR‘s reports about various products or services but who don’t want to subscribe until they’ve first had some experience with CR online. Let them get that first experience at a price point low attractive enough to them but still a signficant fraction of the subscription price. I believe that the new recurring subscription revenues and new piecemeal revenues that CR would gain this way would outway any cannibalization of new or existing online subscriptions.

By the way, pundits frequently cite Consumer Reports as a model of how other periodicals should charge for content rather than rely upon an advertiser-supported business model. What they overlook is that CR‘s charter doesn’t allow it to accept advertising, unlike other periodicals, so CR has no revenue choice but to charge for its online content. Moreover, CR is the rare case of a periodical that fits all three criteria for charging for online content.