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Pay What You Want to Read This Post

Assessing the 'Radiohead Model' for magazines.

Ed James By Ed James
01/07/2008 -15:12 PM

The emergence of the “pay-what-you-want” subscription offer—now known affectionately as the Radiohead model—raises an interesting question: Will people pay for something they can get for free?

The answer, time and time again, seems to be an overwhelming and resounding “No.” Early online content providers tried the “tipping” model—asking readers to support them so they could maintain the sites and continue to provide free material. I’m not certain of the exact number of sites that succeeded with this model, but I think “zero” is a fairly safe bet.

Magazines can’t be looking for how to get consumers to pay more for their content; there’s simply too much competition and free content. That would be simply asking people to buy the proverbial cow.

Radiohead’s moderately successful tip model (based on assumed numbers) was only so because of the diehard fan base dedicated to the band and its music. As a sheer numbers game, Radiohead only needed a small percentage of its millions of fans to offset those that didn’t pay.

(As an aside, I love how the term “The Radiohead Model” has become so commonly used in relating new business notions—I’m looking forward to when we’re all discussing the “Huey Lewis & The News Business Paradigm.”)

In addition, the idea of tipping is simply not a reliable source of income for the publishing industry, especially when done anonymously. We all tip waiters and the occasional barista at Starbucks, but that’s because they’re right in front of us. Moving forward, success for the publishing industry will come to those seeking non-traditional revenue streams—not from those looking how to get more money from their readers.


Ed James By Ed James -- Ed James created Cornerstone Public Relations in early 2006 as an extension of lifestyle marketing company, Cornerstone Promotion. Prior to joining the Cornerstone team, Ed was a founding member of The Morris and King Company where he served as Senior Vice President. Ed began his career at Troma Entertainment, one of the oldest independent film companies in the world, where he was director of marketing and public relations. After that he became vice president of the technology practice at LaForce & Stevens, and has served as a judge for the Brooklyn International Film Festival. Mr. James earned a B.F.A. from Syracuse University.

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