How Publishers are Ruining their Online Sales (and How to Stop It)

Robert Grainger has a bone to pick with publishers. In this era of fake news and renewed interest in long-form content, he believes that consumers are more than ready to pay for good journalism. The problem, according to Granger (a magazine industry veteran and owner of Stonewash), is that publishers are putting up too many roadblocks in the buying process.

“It’s become clear, in recent months, that people do want to read well written and authoritative journalism. This gives me hope for the future, but the obstacle in the path is us,” he writes in Publishing Executive.

Granger cites an anecdotal conversation he had with a reader who vented their frustrations with one news site’s sales process. So he set out to experiment on his own. He confirmed that news sites are offering too many options with too many roadblocks along the way. And this is killing sales. Rather, publishers would do well to take the “land and expand” approach.

“When we’re given too many choices it’s inevitable that we will spend more time questioning our own decisions,” he writes. “The smart people will just take the cheaper option and consider an upgrade later, so why not just give them that option as step 1 and let them upgrade quickly and easily in steps over time?”

It’s a tried and true approach for the SaS (software as service) industry, and the same model seems like it might make sense for print journalism.

“Give the reader one choice, make it a monthly payment, price it below a cup of coffee if you can and let them upgrade easily in future so that their monthly payment increases. The idea of ‘land and expand’ is hardly new, but still applicable,” Granger explains.

Considering the challenges businesses have had just getting people to agree to pay for content at all, eliminating as much friction from the sale seems like a pretty good idea.

“If we could apply ourselves to simplifying our price offering, giving people a reason to feel warmth towards our physical print brand, and a reason to connect with the communities we are creating then we may have a bright future in all formats.”