There's a lot of talk about newspapers charging for their content online but quietly, something interesting is happening: the very blogs that are usually associated with 'free' are dipping their toes in the waters of paid content.
In the tech blogosphere, TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb sell reports. GigaOm has a subscription service. Add to that list Ars Technica, which has launched a new subscription service dubbed Ars Premier 2.0.
For $50/year or $30/bi-annually, subscribers receive access to subscriber-only content, features and forums, a PDF library, live chat events and full-text RSS feeds. They also receive an ad-free browsing experience, special offers from Ars Technica partners and membership in an Ars Editorial Roundtable. In short, an Ars Technica subscription doesn't stop at content; it aims to provide an experience. Sound familiar?
That Ars Technica has launched a subscription service isn't exactly surprising. It offered one in the past and its magazine publisher parent, Condé Nast, isn't exactly wet behind the ears when it comes to the idea of charging for content. According to members of the Ars team, however, the decision to offer a subscription service was not the work of Condé Nast.
Based on comments left by Ars Technica users, it appears that the service is generally well-received. How much moola the service will add to the Ars Technica bottom line is anyone's guess but since Ars isn't taking anything away from non-subscribers, there's little to lose.
Which goes to the heart of the reason why popular tech blogs are embracing paid content in one form or another: they have large audiences and market cred. By not taking advantage of their ability to provide more value to their audiences in some fashion and to charge for it they'd be leaving money on the table.
None of this is to say that paid content and subscriptions are going to be an easy business for most tech blogs. As more players compete for a finite amount of dollars, depth, quality and overall value will only grow in importance. The blogs that already have the capabilities and infrastructure to deliver these things, or those who are willing to invest in developing them, will reap the rewards. Those who do what too many in the traditional media have done (charge without consideration of value) will not.
May the best blogs win.
Photo credit: -luz- via Flickr.