Drawing the Line Between Free and Paid Content

Last Updated on April 30, 2014  

This is a guest post by Mike CJ.

David’s recent blog posts asking “Is the future of blogging paid access?” and then spelling out his own approach in “…this is how I’d do it” attracted loads of comments and I suspect plenty of traffic. I followed the debate with interest.

One area where many people are struggling is in defining where the line should or could be drawn between free and paid content, and it’s something I’ve been wrestling with for some time on my travel blog, which has a paid member’s section.

I haven’t completely solved the problem, but I thought it might be interesting to share what I have learned along the way.

Segregating Readers

I found that the best way to define what content should go where was to have a clear understanding of the motives of our site readers.

I’ve found, across a number of sites in several niches, that readers broadly fall into one of three categories.

Information Seekers

These have often arrived via search and they want a specific piece of information. In our case it might be the dates of this year’s carnival, for example. They’ll bounce in and out, and often couldn’t even tell you the name of the site they got the information from.

In our case, these are people who have booked a vacation here and simply want to know more about the island.

Regular Readers

These people try to catch most of what appears on the site. They may visit a couple of times a week, or be subscribed to the RSS feed. They will very occasionally comment.

These are regular vacationers and people who live here and want to stay up to date.

Super Readers

These are the true fans of the site – they are subscribed to the email list, they buy the books we sell, they comment and email us all the time. They consume everything we produce, in every detail, and then share it with all their friends.

They are people who vacation here two or three times a year and perhaps own a holiday home here.

It’s obviously the last group that is the target audience for the member’s area. But here’s the important thing: Almost without exception, the people in group three have arrived at the site as an “Information Seeker.”

If the post they found was well written, and had some good links in it, we may have successfully converted them into “Regular Readers.” And, in turn, if we continue to surprise and delight them with our content, a small percentage might eventually become “Super Readers.”

That’s why, when considering a paywall, or membership area, you shouldn’t consider “cutting off” the non-paying part of your site. As David says, you need a platform to convert people from.

Once you have a clear understanding of people’s motives, it becomes much easier to consider each piece of content and who it will appeal to.


There are two ways to lead the potential “Super Readers” into the membership area, and we use both. The obvious way is to simply point out as often as you can on the site that there is a member’s area, and lead people to a sales page which explains the benefits.

But the other way, and one which is more successful for us, is to create what I’ve called the “Multi-Reader Post.” Essentially, it’s a single post, which appeals to all three groups of readers, and then offers the “Super Readers” a chance to get more by joining the club.

Let me try to give you an example. Our biggest sporting event here is the Ironman Triathlon. Each May, 1500 athletes, many with families, descend onto the island to compete. With TV, radio and press, we probably have an influx of 10,000 additional people here for the week of the event. It generates big web traffic.

Our posts leading up to the event will be optimised to capture as much of the search traffic as possible and that part will appeal to the “Information Seekers”. But each will go into a little more detail for the “Regular Readers”, perhaps giving them advice about the best places to watch the event, or which channels to tune to for the best coverage.

Finally, each post will finish with a teaser asking people if they want more: “Would you like to hear an interview with Bella Bayliss?” or “Would you like to see video of the bike route taken from a motorcycle?” By clicking, people will be invited to join the club to view the additional content.

With these types of posts, we’re satisfying the needs of all three types of readers and getting new members all the time, but we’re only doing so by keeping the bulk of our platform free to everyone.

About the author: Mike CJ is a European writer and problogger, who is currently running The Beyond Blogging Project. You can find out much more about him at www.mikecliffejones.com.


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Drawing the Line Between Free and Paid Content

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