Just about every newspaper is currently looking for a new revenue model to make money online. Most suggestions are pretty black-and-white; either work with a subscription model or make the content available for free and make money by advertising. Unfortunately, the issue is not that simple:

  • Users are not accustomed to paying for subscriptions for their news
  • Advertising alone does not generate enough revenue to produce high-quality content

If a newspaper (or any other site) wants to make money by using a subscription model, there should be a way for users to sample the content and some way to promote that content. Looking at the first industry to make money by selling content subscriptions (that’s right, the porn industry), there is an obvious answer to these questions.

papers

Give users a good preview

Anybody wants to sample the item they’re buying. Make selected news available for free so users can get an idea of what they’ll be paying for. When there is a major event, create a Breaking News page; make the main story available for free, and require a subscription for any additional background stories.

Promote your content

And I don’t mean by advertising; allow others to use your content as long as they acknowledge you as the source of their information. In fact, there is already a simple way to do this; it’s called the “Attribution Share-Alike” license. Use this for the free content so you don’t give away any content that is not otherwise available.

Crowdsource your promotion

Again, this is not rocket science; others have been doing this for years. For starters, create a referral program that rewards subscribers that lead others to your website. This is a model that has proven itself again and again, and is relatively easy to implement.

Another option is allowing user contributions. This won’t immediately improve the quality of your website, but every contributor will become an ambassador for your site, asking others to check out their articles.

Engage your users

And finally, try to make your subscribers feel part of a community. Give them a place to discuss your articles, make it easy to share them via Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, online bookmarking services, Digg etc cetera. Create options to view custom news selections. Give suggestions to keep users on your site (“users who read this article also read…”).

And remember that this takes effort from both sides. Have your editors chime in on discussions. Acknowledge suggestions and corrections from users. Make it easy to contact the author of a story if you have questions or information about the subject. It’s time to accept that a newspaper is no longer a static thing that gets delivered daily, and embrace the social web.