The appeal of paid content is growing. Last month, The New York Times embarked on one of the largest tests yet around paid content, introducing a subscription plan for the heaviest users of its site. The plan offers three digital subscription options across a variety of devices. All Digital Access—Web site, tablet, smartphone—costs $35 per month.

Meanwhile, printer R.R. Donnelley acquired Journalism Online and its Press+ service, which enables publishers to offer a variety of paid and metered content plans as well as mobile/tablet access, enhanced site functionality, and out-of-market-access.

However, paid content is far from a slam-dunk. The Atlantic has backed away from the launch of The Atlantic Premium, which would have offered a daily bundle of its online content for a monthly fee. “We’re taking a step back on our entire mobile/digital strategy and revisiting everything right now,” says president Justin Smith. “We’re looking at the data from our apps so far and it begs the strategic question of whether we would consider any kind of metered model on the Web site. We’re not ready to make that decision at this point. Our current high-CPM, ad-supported model is working.”  

And right at press time, The New York Times announced a 26-week deep discount to try to get readers behind the new paywall.

Manageable Solutions

Smaller publishers are getting onboard as well. U.K.-based luxury title Lusso Magazine has introduced micropayment options for online premium content at its Web site that offer access to full-length features across up to five different devices. The payments will be processed through PayPal. While purchases are only made on the Web site (which receives about 40,000 unique visitors per month), a user can re-enter a supplied voucher code to read it on another device.
While b-to-b publishing historically has been built around the premise of free content, it also has the best chance for converting to a paid model. And not everything requires paywalls or metered programs.

Last fall, UBM Electronics’ EE Times launched EE Times Confidential, a premium, subscription-based intelligence report. The report is a downloadable PDF that is currently published monthly and will increase to twice per month later in 2011 (a Web site offering current issues and archives will also be launched).

“When ad money is dwindling and whatever we do is defined by how much money we can bring in, [editors] are in a difficult situation to justify our existence,” says EE Times content chief Junko Yoshida. “We’ve grown up in a world where the information is given away for free. We decided we wanted to change the game.”

Pricing Content

EE Times Confidential offers a look at new business models and tech trends; an overview of the marketplace; tracking of venture capital startups and market intelligence. “In this day and age, anyone can find the information if they really put their mind to it, but they don’t have time,” says Yoshida. “We dig deeper and if we’re doing the extra legwork, we need to get paid for it.”

While a PDF may seem hopelessly old-fashioned in the app age, Yoshida says that simple is often best. “Many of our clients said they wanted a PDF that they could just print out, grab and read it on the plane.”

EE Times Confidential has close to 100 customers, with a price point of $497 per subscription.

UBM Electronics conducted a market survey with EE Times readers about price, content, delivery preference and frequency, with suggestions ranging from $99 to $2,500. “We didn’t want to give it up cheap,” says Yoshida. “This is not a rewrite, this is a brand new product with fresh content. The information is what you say it’s worth—and around $500 is something people will go for.”

The publisher is debating different paid content models going forward. While subscriptions are currently sold individually, groups subscriptions are a possibility as are site licenses, according to Yoshida.

“I’d like to pursue an underwriting model, so if you’re working for company that has 50 decision-makers, you will get EE Times Confidential as a gift,” she says. “It’s a direct one-to-one way of communicating with customers.”