Paid news debate: What does the Internet Advertising Bureau think?

At IAB Engage 2009 one of the panelists during the press session said that paid-for definitely will happen, but more likely is a hybrid model, some content paid for and some not. Of course there’s merit in both paid and ‘free’ advertising funded content depending on the audience. However, the big question for the advertising industry remains: as pay-walls come into place, what does it mean for internet advertising?

How does the arrival of pay-walls and paid-for-content sites impact on online advertisers, and will they be drawn to these sites over free content sites?

A pay-wall is no different to paying for print magazines and papers. One major advantage I see for advertisers will be the need for registrations for subscription models. It secures loyalty and gives advertisers an even better idea of the audiences they’re reaching. Previously this would only have been for a certain percentage of visitors. This makes advertising even better because it can be even more accountable and even more relevant.

What does this mean for publishers?

A pay-wall alongside advertising means more money for publishers to pay for better quality content, which is great for advertisers to be associated with – making premium content even more premium. With a pay-wall in place, there will be greater loyalty to publisher brands which means a greater likelihood of advertisers being able to hit consumers with follow-up campaigns (although behavioural advertising and re-targeting already offers this).There will always be free, quality content funded by advertising, and while some publishers will convince consumers to pay for higher quality content, even in this paid for environment advertising will still play a huge role in boosting revenue.

What does this mean for the consumer?

A pay-wall could benefit consumers because publishers will have to work harder to encourage people to pay and then continue to do so. Advertising in this environment, if it’s relevant and targeted, can be of advantage to consumers because they’re shown products, offers and services of interest to them. In press consumers pay for printed publications and there are still adverts; the same holds true in other other media like Sky on TV, The Guardian app on the iPhone and ads at the cinema. Even on your way to work you pay for a train ticket and are still shown ads. It makes sense that people will pay for online content if they feel it’s good enough. It’s also likely that the loyalty aspect will help build a publisher’s online community as the same people return to the site regularly.

What does this mean for search?

It means search will have to adapt. Currently locking an article behind a registration/subscription pay-wall can hide the content from search engines, but search engines can easily work with publishers to offer a solution, e.g. being able to crawl the locked articles to rank them while making it clear to people that they’ll have to pay to view it. Google is already experimenting with this service dubbed ‘first click free’ allowing people to view a set number of pages before the pay-wall appears, e.g. the first click to would show an article, but any subsequent clicks to for the next 24hours would display the pay-wall. Alternatively, the hybrid model of some paid-for content alongside free content to draw in visitors works well, as proven by the Timeout campaign by Jellyfish in our Search Toolkit for Online Publishers.

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    I’m intrigued to see how this plays out with regards news sites, assuming the BBC will always be free and is a very good service, Why would you pay to access generic news channels ?

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    Good point John. Paid content will only work if people see it as worth paying for, so it will need to be unique and high quality.