Free to Paid Digital Business Models

It’s not hard to witness the challenging digital media environment in which we are currently living. Layoffs, companies going under, print businesses going all digital… and the list goes on. Inevitably, the conversation amongst digital media executives focuses on what the right business model is in order to survive and drive sustainable growth.

Is advertising going to come back in vogue with higher CPMs and material improvements in sell-through?

Should digital media businesses listen to the strong words from investors, board members, or Rupert Murdoch to charge for their content?

I’ve spent most of my digital career (since the 90’s) working with some of the premier media brands (WSJ, Time Magazine, United Media, android evaluation board, Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, etc.) on these business model, content, and operational challenges. I also ran a sizable digital subscription business for Rodale Interactive (,,,, etc.) and raised capital, co-founded and launched my own digital business that relied on a hybrid digital business model. That said, I thought it would be helpful if I shared my list of items that executives need to be thinking about when evaluating their digital business model strategies.

Before I go through my list, it should be noted that I have a bias against a single business model. I’ve witnessed the many iterations of digital businesses and participated in think tanks and conferences on the topic of digital business models. Net net, over time, the pendulum swings in both directions (great advertising market and a poor ad market) and in order to sustainably compete, media companies need to identify strategies and operational effectiveness that allows for delivery and business model flexibility given market conditions and macroeconomics.

Staff Teams with Smart Left – and Right-Brained Thinkers – You will quickly find out that the secret sauce for one media company’s success is not likely the secret sauce that will propel your business. You will need creative thinkers and quantitative experts working together, challenging each other, to interpret the data and test new thinking and execution. Success is achieved through synthesizing many variables… an art and a science.

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