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Native Payments: Lowering the barriers of monetizing content

native payments

The publishing and advertising industry have hugely elevated the discussion around “native advertising” or “branded content” in the last year. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s essentially moving promotion from banner ads or pre-roll video (increasingly ineffective) to integrating messaging within the regular content readers are used to seeing (vastly more effective, though “morally ambiguous”). Buzzfeed is often cited as an example of a publisher doing this frequently and transparently.

When done right, this is a powerful form of monetization for publishers, when done poorly, it destroys the lifetime value of a readers and discredits writers and publshers.

A recent post by Nick Chirls over at Betaworks really crystalized something that my team and I at CentUp have been working on for the last 6 months. He calls it “native money,” we often refer to it as native payments. The idea is simple, but the behavioral change required to make it commonplace is not.

Native payment (in the context of content) is a mechanism for allowing readers to simply compensate publishers for content they enjoy. The difference between “native payments” and existing/traditional ones is subjective, but here’s my take on it:

1. It’s universal and neutral, not site specific.

If a reader wants to pay for a piece of online content,they’ll want to use the same payment system on countless other sites, and not have to sign-up for publisher-specific ones. People jump around the web and they don’t like paywalls because they don’t commit to a single publisher when consuming content each day.

2. It requires brutal simplicity.

Native content doesn’t make the reader have to work any harder. Native payments must strive for the same kind of simplicity. That means the closer any publisher can get to replicating the Amazon one-click solution, the better. Yes, Amazon takes an initial sign-up one time, but it’s stupidly easy after that.

3. It has to be acknowledged, and human.

Most publishers today ask for money mechanically, not personally.

“In order to read this article, please subscribe.”
“You’ve reached your monthly limit.”
“Like what you’ve read? Help keep our site free by donating.”

Here’s the reality: most people are used to free content and will continue to expect this unless creators start asking for money and explaining how they’ll use it. This means that on occasion  content should explicity remind people to pay for it until they start doing so naturally. A mechanical reminder doesn’t effectively remind a reader to contemplate why their monetary contributions are important, but a personal request will drastically increase that kind of thinking. Look at Kickstarter. Part of the reason it’s so successful (especially the content-focused projects) is people know where their money is going, and there’s a clear ask.

4. It’s evoked, not gated.

When people decide to buy something, they want to see what they get before they pay for it. As much as publishers want to paywall their content and ride on the coat-tails of the trust and interest they’ve earned in the past, gating content is never going to appeal to the masses. Smart native payments within good content will show people they’d be crazy NOT to compensate an author for content, instead of telling them they’re crazy for expecting that content to be free. (Yes, this is a tall order.)

Challenges

Technology: Websites aren’t cookie cutter environments. Lots of people (including us) are building solutions for publishers to build payments into their sites, but different platforms require different implementations. A drupal plugin, is not a wordpress plugin, is not a line of code in tumblr.

Behavior: People are used to paying for content (especially writing) indirectly. Looking at ads is the most common form of payment. There’s also providing data, or purchasing goods through a publisher’s site (affiliate marketing). You can read more about this here. But we all must be cautious about how much we’re willing to let such payments shift the quality and direction of the content we’re looking to consume. One of CentUp’s publisher’s Daniel Verastiqui perfectly summarized how native payments can improve the quality of content in a way that advertising dollars cannot.

Opportunities

Technology: Things like Napster, Limewire, and essentially…the internet, pushed people to start expecting music should be free. iTunes came along and showed artists that people were willing to pay for music if the exchange of value was more direct, and customizable. A good platform and a smart set of artists worked together to make this happen for music. Once again, technology and smart creators can make this happen for other formats.

Behavior: People want to feel good about paying for content, they don’t want to feel guilted into it. Native payments will see the most success from publishers and platforms who turn the act of payment into something that fuels vanity (this isn’t a negative thing), provides exclusivity, or offers contributors some kind of luxury besides being entertained or informed by the content they’re consuming.

Predictions:

  • By 2014, at least 25% of sites that publish ongoing content will have native payments built into their platforms. 
  • Payment platforms like PayPal will reduce fees to compete with rising stars like Dwolla.
  • Jaron Lanier’s thoughts around the internet squeezing the middle class will continue to come true and push more people to monetize their creative output.
  • Publisher specific native payment systems will be tested, and for the most-part fail except for niche/hardcore fan-bases.
  • Native content will see explosive growth in 2014 but many publishers will start to get called out by their most passionate readers.

 

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  • Jed Diamond

    This is great. Nice description. Thanks much.

  • benkunz

    Len, first a critique, then an idea for a tweaked business model…

    I wish I could agree with your concept, but I see payment psychology very differently. Every time you ask someone to make a payment, you are creating the cognitive dissonance of value judgment. The wheels in the head must turn and ascertain if this is a “good” or “bad” deal, and that friction stops micropayments from scaling. This is the very reason why most content publishers that make money from direct payments move to subscription opt-out models, where only one decision is made to opt-in and then the user can forget he or she is paying on a regular basis. The “mental payment dissonance,” or MPD (ha), becomes invisible.

    This is why constant micropayments, which create a multiple series of decision points, will have challenge scaling.

    A second challenge is consumers respond better to threats of loss than promises of attraction. I subscribed to NYTimes.com digitally because I was averse to the pain of hitting a wall when I really want to read quality NYT content. Last night, my wife suggested we subscribe to Pandora because while she loved the service, the ad interruptions were disruptive and she would pay to avoid the ads. Aversion is a powerful force. The clothing “sale” at the store gets people to flock because they’ll feel bad somehow if they miss the “deal” tomorrow. So, we’ll pay to avoid a paywall for content we love online (averting loss), but we won’t pay per article (gaining a specific thing).

    This is the second challenge for micropayments tied to content scaling.

    My suggestion is to seek a business model where the micropayments become default behavior that does not require a decision with each exchange. Perhaps a subscription model that puts X points for micropayments in the bank, and then as users read articles that require those small payments the content is deducted in a way that feels beneficial — perhaps with an inverted points system using game mechanics to show your accumulated contributions. This would turn the pain upside down: There would be one opt-in decision point, to subscribe to a bank of micropayments, and then the updates would make us feel better for participating in this utopian model. As the bank of points draws smaller, consumers who fear the loss of “losing” out in the system might up their subscription for more micropayment points.

    Let micropayments flow like a river, just don’t make us think about each exchange interaction. Just a few crazy thoughts.

    • http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/8591?return=%2Fideas%2Findex%2F10%2Fcompany%3Agolinharris Len Kendall

      Ben (see how I got your name right there), you always leave the most thoughtful comments. It’s truly appreciated.

      I think you’re absolutely right about micropayments being hard to scale because of MPD. In the case of CentUp we know that and purposely built it around not having to feel like you’re paying more than once. People load a payment option the first time when they sign-up, and then after that it works kind of like a bus pass or a more similar example would be the itunes store.

      You click the button a bunch of times and pledge to content you like, but you’re billed (and we pay) in bulk. So each individual payment really isn’t a micropayment, it’s a designation of value that will be transferred in the future.

      I think consumers do respond better to loss often, but if you look like at platforms like Kickstarter it’s possible to make that “loss” be a reward. In other words, you’re not going to lose anything if don’t pledge to Kickstarter X, except first dibs on a shiny Z.

      We’re building a couple of features that loop this type of feeling into contributions that come via CentUp.

      Overall I think this business model IS hard. And there are a lot dead bodies on the path we’re taking, but we do believe a formula exists that can finally make this work.

      Lastly, try our button out. (I’ll give you some free credits if you want). I think you’ll be astonished at how little thinking is required when using it. We’re actually going to add a demo button to our site in the next 10 days to showcase how simple it is.