Internet business models come in many different forms and styles. However, over the years there have been some business models for businesses and creators producing content that has seen undeniable success. The traditional model used to be ad-based revenue. This was based on print magazine and newspaper publishing which is dependent on ads. However, with the rise of ad-blockers and inefficient online ad campaigns, we have been forced to come up with some other means of basing our online businesses. There has been the rise of subscription-based business models such as Netflix and Medium. With the rise in Kickstarter and Patreon, donor-based business models have also been trending.
When business models become dominant, it’s tempting for many businesses and creators to join the bandwagon and make it work for themselves. Sometimes this does not work. For example, many creators have been lamenting about the pitfalls of creators and businesses using a donor-based business model. Within the publishing industry, people have been wondering if there can be a publishing version of Netflix and Spotify. Though some publishers such as Kindle Unlimited is making it work, the kinks of subscription services for ebooks and audiobooks are still being worked out. Using a dominant business model doesn’t always work and I think it’s important to really tailor these business models to suit your consumers and your own business. I’d like to point out some examples.
Scribd and its attempt to use the subscription model
Scribd, an online publishing platform that includes ebooks and audiobooks, tried to be the “Netflix” of books a few years back in 2013. It followed the subscription model, however, they discontinued it in 2016 because it wasn’t working financially. They found that a small portion of their readers (primarily romance readers) were reading too many books a month (sometimes a hundred books a month). This was costing them too much. Unlike Netflix where Netflix licenses the rights to stream a movie for an unlimited number of times, Scribd pays publishers every time a book is read (a ‘per-read basis’). The subscription model just didn’t make sense for their ebook business.
Scribd switched to a credit-based model similar to Audible where with a monthly fee, you get 1 credit which gets you 1 free audiobook and then member discounts for books you have to purchase. This model helped them get back on track financially, however, in early 2018, Scribd announced it was going back to a subscription-based model but this time with some limitations. It wasn’t going to be truly unlimited reading…they would cap certain readers every month if they saw they were accessing material at a very fast pace. Though I scoffed at this when I first learned about it, I now see that Scribd learned from its mistakes and tailored a popular business model – the subscription service – to work with the underlying publishing industry and consumer demand. It’s not perfect, but it’s working for them.
The Guardian and a blend of donors, ads, and sponsored content
The Guardian online was working on a ad-based revenue system. But with the rise in adblockers they switched to a donor-based model as well. After many of the articles, there’s a call to make a one-time payment or becoming a monthly donor. Switching to a donor-based model worked for them and now they have over 500,000 regularly paying readers. They didn’t put their entire website behind a paywall or get rid of all ads but they blended in some other business models to work for their readers. There’s also promoted stories at the bottom of each article that also helps their profits. The Guardian can still keep providing quality for free with just a slight change in their business model. Their call to donate is also friendly and honest in my opinion.
I think the biggest challenge of dominant business models is looking at them and seeing if they can work for you or tailoring these new ideas to make it work. This can be tricky but some pretty creative solutions can come out from it. As Stephanie mentioned in her blog post this week, diversity in business models is very important. Just doing a quick Google search of “Internet Business Models” I am reminded that there are so many out there! We don’t have to just look at the dominant ones and make it fit our business. there are so many different types of business models to choose from, mix and match from, and build off of.
From boardofinnovation.com, here’s 23 different kinds!:
Specifically for us, as creators and publishers, I think we have to always be thinking outside the box but also understanding what our readers (or viewers, listeners, users, etc) want. During Emerging Leaders, I was introduced to two more business models I’ve never heard of. One was serialbox.com where you subscribe to a plot that’s worked on by a team of writers (similar to a writers room), and every week you get an episode that you can either read or listen to. Another business I learned about during a mentor meet was Blendl.com, a news platform that charges you very little money (10 cents to 90 cents) per article. If the reader doesn’t like it they can ask for a refund. This promotes quality content and is also not asking too much from a reader. This micropayments model can be alluring for those who don’t want to commit so much money but is willing to give away small change for good reads.
Overall, we just have to keep learning and keep innovating.