This article first appeared in issue 230 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.
The ‘content should be free’ mantra has represented a major barrier to the digital content industry. However, with ubiquitous connectivity fast approaching, the range of enabled devices proliferating and mainstream consumers now accustomed to sourcing entertainment via the web, we believe the market is on the brink of major change.
As runaway success stories such as iTunes and Netflix demonstrate, consumers of all ages are ready, willing and already buying digital content in large numbers. The key difference that makes people happy to pay for content at these standout sites is that they understand how to encourage people to reach for their wallets.
Put simply, they provide a blend of relevancy, convenience and cost-effectiveness that dovetails with the way people live today, and for most that combination outweighs the uncertainty of pirate sites and free sharing networks.
It’s that easy. To enable themselves to charge for content, all anyone has to do is meet the six key criteria that services such as iTunes have adopted to embrace 21st Century consumers.
1. Make content easy to find
Internet consumers have too much choice, and finding the videos, blogs and stories that centre on the subjects they’re interested in is becoming tougher amid a welter of white noise. In order to counteract this issue, producers must make their content as discoverable as possible, ensuring that every item is properly labelled with the right, SEO savvy, tags and descriptions.
2. Set the right price point
According to Jakob Nielsen, 15 per cent of web users have already paid for music or game content online and more than 50 per cent say they would certainly consider doing so. With analysts predicting that iTunes sales could reach $13billion in the next year, the debate about whether people will pay for online content is over. They will if the price is right.
3. Make it easy to purchase and consume
There are plenty of opportunities for web users to download music from file sharing sites for free, yet the iTunes store’s takings continue to increase exponentially. Why? Because it’s reliable, convenient and reasonably priced. On that basis, consumers will choose ease over cost nearly every time.
4. Keep it safe
There is no panacea to solve the solution of copyright theft, but to protect themselves content creators must assert their legal rights and ownership, while clearly presenting anyone viewing the content with the details of such. Additionally, they need to put in place a technical system that ensures only those with permission can consume the materials made available online.
5. Make it social
Hopes of users being introduced to a wider range of materials through networks such as Twitter are thus far proving largely unfounded. However, with users of social networking services responsible for creating 550million ‘Likes’ and Tweets every day, every content service must have the capability to plug into these growing networks.
6. Keep the quality high
People read, watch and listen to content that they regard as informative or entertaining, and as shown by iTunes, are prepared to pay for anything they deem to be of appropriate quality.
The iTunes system already works well for the top one per cent of the content market. All the sector needs now is to establish an appropriate platform for consumers to browse and purchase the other 99 per cent and we’re done.
That may sound like a daunting task, but experience shows us that if you get the ingredients right, today’s web users are ready and willing to pay for the content they want.