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.

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