Differences Between Paid Content, Free Content and Freemium Content

Female photo editors discussing in office
••• Maskot / Getty Images

The differences between paid content, free content and freemium content can make your website a success or spell financial and branding doom. While new media platforms give traditional media outlets a boost, many companies are having to decide whether to charge visitors for online content. Several factors should be considered as you weigh the pros and cons of paid versus free content and the go-between called freemium.

 

Website Design

Whether you're just starting your own news website or your site is already an established online brand, every media website's goal is to build traffic and make money, adding paid content affects your site design and how you'll sell readers on your content.

  • Free
    The focus is on content and building stats. Convince people your media site is worth their time. What can they find from you that’s not somewhere else online?
  • Paid 
    Money and time will be spent to build a paywall. Will you restrict all of your content or offer a freemium service, which includes some free content? Assure people your site is worth their money, especially if they used to get your content for free.

Cross-Promotion to Other Media

You started a website as an extension of your traditional media platform. But the usual cross-promotion can be more complicated when your content comes with a price tag.

  • Free
    Even if content is widely available on other sites, it can still be used to cross-promote to your other media, such as cross-promoting your TV station's coverage. A story on your local school system's performance can simply include the basics on one platform and a complete report on the other.
  • Paid
    Exclusive content is critical. Visitors will be unwilling to pay for the same news they can find elsewhere, like the school system report. You could lure readers with a sneak peek of the story that's only available to website subscribers before offering it on the free part of your site or in your traditional media outlet.

    Business Model

    Traditional media businesses have spent years coming up with web strategies to make sure they're not spending $1,000 to make $100 on their site. The business model changes dramatically when you add paid web subscribers.

    • Free
      Your site is completely ad revenue-driven. Ad rates are based on your stats, just as a TV or radio station would sell commercial time using the rating book as a guide.
    • Paid
      You receive ad revenue, plus subscriber fees. While that sounds like more dollars, the number of visitors to your site will likely take a hit when you erect a paywall. So you may lose advertisers who want to reach the biggest audience possible, and your subscriber base will have to make up for that lost revenue.

    Site Positioning Against Your Competitors

    If you and your competitors are on the same playing field -- everyone's content is free, or they're all paid sites -- positioning your online brand is straightforward. That changes if you're the only one in town requiring a paid subscription.

    • Free
      If your site is free, you're not at a competitive disadvantage as long as your content is updated and the site looks and performs well.
    • Paid
      You will fall if people leave your site to get free content from your competitors. Your rival could tout that they're the biggest site in your market, leaving you without a comeback line.

      Reader Interaction

      Even your interaction with readers is affected with the switch to paid media. You have to be careful not to lose out on building your overall brand.

      • Free
        There are unlimited opportunities to connect with your audience. You want people to interact with you through your site and social media platforms, and you can use social media to drive readers right back to your site.
      • Paid
        You're cut off from some of the media outlets. They may not want to have to pay to post their photos in your web gallery or to comment on the news. You may also lose your Facebook fans and Twitter followers as a result.

      Impact on Your Community

      Your readers are the reason you're in business. Their expectation is to get web content for free. Any change will affect you from a public relations standpoint. They may not initially understand the differences between paid content, free content and freemium content or accept that some content may not be free.

      • Free
        A free site builds goodwill in the community and can drive people to your offline product. It's especially helpful to media platforms that have a heavy focus on local content as opposed to national content.
      • Paid
        Your image could be hurt in your community, especially at first, with people blasting you for charging them. But your most dedicated readers need to be reminded why they trusted you as a source of information when your content was free.