Corporate Eye

Should Your Branded Content Have a Fee?

the_times_ukThe publishing industry has been struggling to figure out how to stay afloat since print advertisers have migrated en masse over the past several years to the online space.  Online advertising dollars are the source of the money needed to keep online publications running and throughout the past decade, most online publishers (including media giants) have moved from paid subscription models where content is only offered behind a paywall to a freely available model in an attempt to boost page views and advertisers’ investments.

Interestingly, a couple of publications have been experimenting with a return to the paywall model they abandoned years ago.  The Times of London and the Sunday Times are examples of such a publication.

According to a report from Nielsen, The Times websites attracted over 3.09 million U.K. visitors each month during the second quarter of 2010 when all content was available for free.  A paywall was put in place at the beginning of the third quarter of 2010.  During that period, paywall visitors (which includes people who are using a free trial, print subscribers who automatically get free online access, and people who paid specifically to access the online content behind the paywall) amounted to just 362,000 visitors per month, but overall traffic to The Times websites dropped to just 1.78 million (which includes the paywall visitors).

That means the number of visitors to The Times websites nearly dropped in half after the paywall was put in place.  Furthermore, after the paywall was put in place, just 20% of visitors accessed the information behind that paywall.

The Times actually views these results positively saying that the paywall customers are statistically more affluent, more targeted, and more engaged (3rd quarter results showed a 42% increase in page views per person –17– compared to 2nd quarter results — 12).  For The Times the paywall audience can drive a premium rate from advertisers who want to connect with those consumers.  Top it off with a subscription fee that many of those paywall customers are paying, and The Times is optimistic about how charging consumers a fee to access some or all of a site’s content will affect their business in the long-term.

Where do you stand on the free content vs. paid subscription content debate?  Branded content is a bit different since it’s usually a marketing tool, but what about premium branded content?  Where do you think that fits in?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

This is an interesting point, but not all new. In Mongolia where I work as a PR professional, the practice seems to be similar to the suggestion made above. Brands do pay to get their branded editorial content published in print and TV media and the fee for it is almost as same as advertising cost. This blurs the lines between advertising and PR, however as long as competition exist among print media, there’s always a scope for earned media as opposed to paid media.

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