The paid-content widget

Today, Keith Teare at Edgeio is launching a new means to charge for — and distribute — content within a site.

I’m no great fan of charging for content — and have argued that the Times and Journal should go free — because putting up walls only limits your audience and thus your advertising revenue — not to mention your Googlejuice and participation in the conversation, thus your brand — and it also increases your marketing costs. I also doubt that syndication is a sustainable business model for content.

But this is a bit different. What Edgeio has created is a slick little widget that lets you see and then buy content without leaving a site. So let’s say you’re on GigaOm or PaidContent and they want to sell you a special report or exclusive video they’ve done. You click and buy and view the content right there within the same page. Until they’re clever enough to go free — or until someone makes them — I could see the Wall Street Journal enabling people to embed their stories on their blogs or sites with this pay structure in place: ‘Want to see the story right now, here? You can.’ The widget also has a link that lets you grab it and put it on your site, selling the content and taking a cut. Right now, this is enabled with credit card or PayPal. Here’s a demo. It’s just a demo. Don’t buy it. Really.

What interests me about this is what else it could do and the implications that has for the architecture of content distribution.

One idea: Instead of paying for an individual article or video, they could enable membership. If you belong to the PaidContent club — if you pay a membership fee or go to one of their conferences — you get access to this content as a benefit.

Now layer on time as a factor. My son, a big fan of Diggnation, pays so he can get early access to the show. What if you charge for early access to a show — even a network show, even a magazine article — but it later goes free? If you care enough to get it now, you can.

Next look at the idea of paying with play money readers earn by doing something you want them to do. Watch these ads and earn the points to see that content. Click on ads and earn the points. Answer a survey to get points. Use your frequent flier miles. All this could be a pain in the ass but the pain of taking action or giving attention may be less than the pain of payment. And an advertiser could be seen as subsidizing your access to content: You could pay $1.95 but if you’ll just answer my two questions or watch my ad, you’ll get it for free (the Salon model).

Teare isn’t doing these things yet but he says he could. And again, I’m not endorsing any of these means to charge for content. I will regret it if this is used as another means to put up walls; it should be used as a new way to distribute more broadly. But I think it will be interesting to watch whether putting the checkout on the page you’re reading may make a difference.

But now finally — here’s the fun part: Take away the idea of payment entirely and look at this as a way to distribute content. (That’s my thought, not Teare’s.) I’ve long wished that I could grab an excerpt or an entire story and put it here on this page with branding and links intact. Imagine I wanted to share a great Guardian story with all of you. Today, of course, I’d link to it and quote it. But why shouldn’t I be able to show you the whole thing here, just as I can show you a video? What if news sites make their content — not just video but audio, text, photos, and graphics — available in player widgets we can put on our sites? And if they get to do it with brand and the ability to track data then they’ll be motivated to open up their content for us all to share. This becomes the basis of a new architecture of content: after the page, after the audience network.

Everyone in media is about to go widgetmad but they’re thinking about it the wrong way: They are deciding what to put in the widgets (here are our headlines, take our quiz…). We should decide what we want in the widgets that we distribute.

  • I have an almost reflexive need to hit the back button when I see a site asking for my money (unless, of course, it’s my “choice” like Amazon, Ebay, etc.) but as the reports have been showing this week, advertisers may increasingly become unwilling to just throw money at all the new web-services and start-ups. What you’re suggesting is a great idea because it allows for accountability in the effectiveness of an ad; who saw it, their age, their response, and so on.

  • Charlie

    I agree. I don’t think sites should charge for content either. But getting quality results improve when there is a small fee. is an new job and local classified site that charges a small fee for job posting. It’s job search features rival that of Monster, CareerBuilder but for a fraction of the cost. Combined with free local classifieds in nearly 1,000 U.S. cities it’s the best of both worlds.


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  • Hi Jeff,

    There are already tools for running membership websites (we offer one) and there are hundreds of such sites.

    Subscription and membership work when the content is unique, actionable, not easily substituted, and from a trusted source (individual or brand). Usually this is niche content that can be recognized by members of the niche as having measurable value.

    Examples of successful paid content websites include (which runs on our platform); (on a rival platform) and (also not ours). Yes, on you can download a quick sermon if you’re a reverend in a rush. That’s valuable and actionable.

    For mass media brands such as the WSJ and NYT, it may make more economic sense to drop the subscription firewall in favor of potentially more lucrative advertising revenue streams. This doesn’t mean that the subscription model is a failure, as some seem to want to argue.

    This is different, of course, from the principle of whether or not content deserves to be free. I happen to think that content creators deserve to be paid for their knowledge, expertise and effort. Not all of them will reach the scale necessary to achieve this via advertising.

    It is good to see Edgeio catching on to the paid content concept but they take a big cut — from my quick test, their cut of a $20 content purchase was $4, or 20 percent. Ouch.

    Kind regards,
    Evan Rudowski


  • Allen Stern

    Interesting that a kid would use their money to buy access to a show that’s not really “super awesome” and that is available for free a few days later. I guess Diggnation is this generation’s version of the Air Jordan? Well wait, probably not a fair comparison.

    Why not just go direct to PayPal using all of their options and save the 20% that Evan notes above?

    In my previous life we played a lot with the points for items method and it never really took off. Even in the mothers demo which worked best for this type of deal.

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  • After looking at this a bit further there is another negative in the Edgeio model, aside from the hefty surcharge — the purchaser must buy the content via their Edgeio account (or set up an Edgeio account if they don’t have one). There is no other way. There’s no direct transaction between the buyer and the content creator.

    With every content transaction, Edgeio gains users and gains accounts, and its position as intermediary strengthens. Do the content creators establish any relationship with the purchaser, or learn anything about them, or even get their e-mail address? I don’t see that they do. Only Edgeio does.

    The internet is all about putting the means of production and distribution directly in the hands of creators. It’s about enabling audiences to interact with each other and with the content authors, building communities. This is a model that works in opposition to that ethos by setting up a third party as the intermediary.

    Kind regards (again),
    Evan Rudowski

  • Allen Stern

    Great point Evan!

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  • Why shouldn’t people pay for content? As Evan points out, if you are providing reliable, unique content, they may pay for it because they really want it.

    For small start-ups like and, ad revenue may not be a reliable source of income, for many reasons.

    We haven’t yet put a pay-for-play gate on AiB or M yet, but we did discover that Paypal allows people to engage in voluntary subscriptions. I’d love to hear more about how small content creators like us, producing serious newsworthy content of international value, might hope to survive on advertising alone.

    Particularly with video, viewers are still highly suspect of ads and seem to view content with ads in a very negative light. We need to find a sustainable model of success, but we also need to keep our audience, because that’s the reason we’re doing this.

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  • Evan Hi

    Actually edgeo is not an intermediary in the traditional sense. We use paypal to proces payment and the content is delivered from its creator to the buyer directly.

    The only reason there is a nedd for an edgeio account is so that content purchased can be consumed again later. For this to be possibe we need to know what was paid for and by whom. This is less an issue with downloaded content but is a big issue with streamed or viewed “in-place” content.

    We could achieve the same goal if every publisher adopted an API but to keep it simple for all we use an edgeio account as an ID.

    Keith Teare

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  • James

    Linux Weekly News has been a subscription site since July 2002, with content becoming freely available after a week. They also have a “make a free link” button that allows you to share articles with your friends.

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  • Can someone who has been using the tool tell me how it works. Does anyone have any experience working with this platform or used it in conjunction with http// ?

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