In search of a “commerce viability” algorithm: why will people pay for content on some platforms and not others?


Many of my days are spent considering how to drive consumer value and revenue across a spectrum of news platforms: print, Web, mobile, social and a host of yet-to-be-launched media.

In my experience, each platform has a different “commerce viability” index. Product launches and marketing tests tell us enough to know it varies, but my job would be so much easier if I had a simple algorithm.

The drivers of “commerce viability,” or of a consumer’s willingness to pay for content, can be allocated among the following five attributes. Each attribute is assigned a weight to roughly illustrate how correlated that attribute is to a consumer’s willingness to pay.

Broad reliability of content Vertical nature of content Longevity of content Immediacy of information Social “trustworthiness”
(30%) (30%) (30%) (8%) (2%)

Let's take a look at each platform.

Print newspaper: Most consumers who pay for a newspaper do so because the product offers reliable content that is relevant to a broad community, comes in a relatively durable form and can be read from cover to cover over the course of the day. These qualities of print meet 60% of the “commerce viability” attribute weighting, reinforcing why the print newspaper model is the furthest along in driving consumer revenue compared to other digital platforms.

Browser-based Web sites: Newspaper Web sites have many of the same content qualities, and if a Web site is hyper-vertical in its content, it seems to be even more disposed to driving consumer revenue than more general publications. Web sites satisfy a reader’s need for immediacy of news and information. Unfortunately, in my experience, immediacy alone isn’t valuable enough to encourage subscription or purchase. Being consistent with my math, Web sites meet about 38% of the commerce requirements.

Smartphone access: News and information available on a smartphone suffers from limited real estate, and, therefore isn’t able to drive value from unique or targeted content in a meaningful way. It seems that consumers are even less willing to pay for a subscription to news and information on a phone — possibly only meeting about 10% of value requirements. The primary benefit of providing smartphone access may come from publishers using it as added value to one of the other platforms.

Social platforms: News on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks is embraced by readers because of a new definition of “trust.” A decade ago, the person who read the news on TV or the company that edited and published the news was seen as important in validating information. If news didn’t come from that trusted source, it wasn’t reliable. Today, “trust” is expanded to include one’s friends or other selected advocate — typically not a journalist trained in unbiased news gathering. Unfortunately, social “trust” drives the smallest component of “commerce viability,” between 2% and 10% depending on the content, which explains why few have figured out how to turn social media into an acquisition channel.

Tablets: Interestingly, tablets as a platform seem to possess all four attributes. Of all the digital platforms, tablets seem to come the closest to emulating the print reading experience. Furthermore, many apps allow for the integration of real-time feeds and social media. Given the explosion of tablet subscription commerce among publications that have traditionally charged for digital content as well as those that have not, it would suggest that the algorithm is directionally correct where paid news content on a tablet meets all of a consumers purchase criteria.

Now that I have figured out the algorithm, I’m heading out on vacation.

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.