September 13, 2016 Last Updated 2:13 pm

The value of free: publishers should be reminded that today’s consumer expects extras

The release of iOS 10 is a good reminder that many of our customers today expect that once they have made their initial purchase, the goodies don’t stop arriving

I suppose, like me, you enjoy getting things for free – even when they only appear to be free. Take today’s release of iOS 10, everyone with an iPhone or iPad, assuming it is not too old, can download the new software today… for free. We expect this now, we’re conditioned to expect it.

For Apple, which loves to have a closed ecosystem, giving away their OS software makes a lot of sense. It helps their developer partners by making sure a majority of users are on the same version, and it helps Apple deal with such things as security issues.

But it is also a recognition of the value of the update. Let’s face it, Apple could certainly charge for the update, but that would mean the fragmentation of the platform. Also, as those publishers who use the App Store to sell digital subscriptions know, every time the opportunity appears for customers to renew there is some percentage of loss.

It also devalues the price of all upgrades, something that has forced Microsoft to change its business model after years of living off of Windows upgrades.

Publishers, of course, have used freebies and continue to do so. Any circulation manager can tell you what the current offers are beyond discounts – two titles for one subscription is a good one for publishers. But there are others, like cookbooks, directories, etc.

But what Apple does, which is somewhat unique, is to remind customers with their updates that they are always there, working for them, giving them something that they have earned with their initial purchase.

A former magazine publishing executive told me a few years ago that the two big lessons he has learned when he moved from the publishing side to the software side was that publishers don’t gather useful reader data very well, and then when they have it they don’t use it to deliver more goods – things as simple as more content.

The publisher of a food magazine, for instance, could survey for what cuisines or wines the reader likes, then inform them when there is new articles on that topic.

Looking through my in-box (actually, the Trash) I see that The New York Times sends me an almost daily email asking me to buy an upgraded digital subscription. Half of them say that “today” is the last day for some deal they are offering. I don’t believe them anymore, they want to sell me, and they can’t seem to be honest about it.

By now it is too late, their emails get instantly deleted. But had they, early on, offered me something, even just a sneak peak at a story, or even word of an update, that would have been appreciated, and it would have told me that paying that monthly digital subscription was worth more than just getting access to the website.

The NYT and other media companies have experimented in this area – I realize that. But today is a good time to be reminded once again of the value of free in the eyes of our readers. (TNM is as guilty of this as any other media property.)

Don’t tell me we don’t know how to give away things for free – we gave away the web to our readers and advertisers for years before finally deciding this wasn’t such a good idea. Now, it is time to give away things we know we can’t sell, but would still be of value. It takes imagination to decide what those offerings might be, but if we want to retain readers, grow new, younger readers, we better learn.

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