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Can Bloggers Make Money With Paid Subscriptions?

I started writing this post as a review of Letterly, a platform that allows writers to charge for “premium content.” It’s a small but growing community. I think its simplicity is genius from the tech side: readers sign up for a monthly subscription, pay through Amazon, and get your content delivered via email. No themes, no skinning.

Design-wise, the site is nothing. And unlike other paid services, the 3.5% transaction fee is reasonable.

But there are mixed thoughts on the subject of paywalls.

Patrick Phillips, publisher and editor of I Want Media, an ad-supported free blog told Clickz way back in 2003, “I’m skeptical of the viability of paid subscription blogs and of paid subscriptions for most online news providers. Much of the news on the Internet is still available for free, so I am doubtful that a significant number of people would be willing to pay, no matter the niche,” Phillips says, “At least at this point.”

It’s tough not to argue with that point. I personally can’t stand that NYT.com paywall. And apparently, I’m not alone. Remember last year, when The Times UK lost 4 million unique visitors a month? However, TechCrunch writer, Eric Schonfeld opines that it was a winning financial move. They more than made up for their lost ad revenue with their paid subscriptions!!!

Letterly now has almost 4,000 publishers. I’ve noticed Gwen Bell has also started on Letterly, as has Dave Morin. Look at blogger Everett Bogue, who published Far Beyond the Stars. He decided to use Letterly for reasons beyond cold hard cash. He explains in an interview:

I started the letter.ly because I began to realize that talking about advanced mental cybernetics to an audience of 85,000+ people [on Twitter] was incredibly confusing for the audience. People were stumbling across the articles, and had no idea what I was talking about. At best this made people incredibly confused, at worst I was ripping people’s brains through the space/time continuum.

I had to make a choice: either dumb down the content for a mass audience, or ask people for a commitment before they entered the time-machine. Once I made this choice, it took a lot of the pressure off me to make sure everyone got it — which is impossible at this point.

I think there’s a real move here — to layer free content to your general audience and “premium” content as Everett has done to a more intimate circle of people who self-select with their hard-earned dollars.

Rick Bruner of Marketing Wonk breaks it down clearly on Clickz, citing Elizabeth Spiers as an example.

Gawker averaged around 20,000 unique daily visitors. Say 300,000 monthly, of whom 100,000 are regular readers. Say once a week she had a longer article for which she charged 20 cents. If 1 percent of the regular readers (1,000 people) paid 20 cents four times a month, that’s $800. Not enough to quit a day job, but nothing to sneeze at for a blogger.

So… what you say, bloggers? Would you consider adding a paid/premium layer to your blog?

photo credit: stock xchng

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