Charging and paying for content

Spoiler alert - we are not putting up a paywall here at the November Bicycles Blog.

CyclingNews and CyclingTips have now joined VeloNews and I guess many other sites in putting up paywalls. My potentially disastrous take is - good for them! They should. Mitigating the disaster of this take is that I suspect I'll be somewhat preaching to the choir here - I think most of our audience is sympathetic to this. 

No one likes to pay for content. My friend Joe Berkeley, who's sort of a genius at advertising (and a sailing and cycling geek, who may actually read this post), set up an agency a long time ago that focused entirely on creative. Despite putting out great stuff and him being awesome at it, he had to change the model because, as he and a ton of other people put it "no one wants to pay for creative." Last laugh is for him as he's doing great with the tweaked model.

People don't like to pay for service, and as you move away from physical product it only gets worse. People are happy to buy components, as they understand them - I needed a chain for my new bike* yesterday, and bought one without thought. People are somewhat less happy to pay for assembling/manipulating physical things - I read debates about what is "too much" to charge for the labor of a wheel true/bearing replacement/whatever. While I'm on the thin ice here anyway I'm just going to go say that if you had a plumber who was as good at plumbing as we are at building wheels, you'd happily pay a good rate for that plumber, and you'd pay them more than you would an unknown plumber. So we have no problem charging rates that make it worth our time. 

People like paying for information even less. Oddly, companies seem to quite enjoy paying for information. Or at least they realize that it's a cost that can provide a sizable return. But let's focus on CyclingTips, since we have a historical tie with them - I interviewed CyclingTips founder Wade Wallace for Mike's old "GamJams" site like 12 years ago - and they're the best drop bar-focused site in my opinion. They've assembled an awesome editorial staff. Their tech editors are best in class, their racing news coverage is great and insightful. It's not perfect. In my opinion, they're way too inside baseball and refer to riders by first names as though they are old friends. They may well be, but for you and me they aren't, and I'd like to know just who in the heck they're talking about. There's other stuff, too, but on balance if you want to know about cycling, I think they're great. And they're putting out a product which costs money to produce. If you don't like it, don't buy it. It's not owed to you. There's still ads because their costs exceed the subscription revenue. The NY Times and every other newspaper that you'd buy has ads in it, so why is this different?

Especially as you get older, but in general in the modern world opportunity cost is a bear. You only get so much time on your bike, you only have so much time to consume cycling news, you only have so much time for anything before family, work, taking out the garbage, trying to save the planet - whatever it is you do - demands your time. Knowing that you're spending that scarce time as effectively as possible is valuable. And here's where I'm going to say something I've been scared to say for 6 or so years...

Few people want to pay for the costs associated with providing the consultation we and other top-tier wheel shops provide. We get played all the time by people trying to find out what's best for them and then going and finding it for less. Whatever, that happens, but if our builds cost $30 more than another place and we've had involved discussions about what/why you should get, our costs of doing that are elevated by well more than $30. 

We often get asked if we offer repeat customer discounts. About 40% of our sales revenue comes from repeat customers. That's a huge number for any business but especially in this one. So when a person becomes a customer, we expect that they'll become a repeat customer. We bust a** to make sure we put out a good product, and the general weight of what happens shows that we succeed far more often than not. Behind the curtain, Mike and I often joke that we should charge a repeat customer premium. You've found your personal wheel builder, you know the product will be good, so why wouldn't you be willing to pay a premium for that? The problem is solved. In reality, we're not going to do that but neither are we going to offer return customer discounts. 

I view quality content the same way. As of this morning I now pay something like $39 a year so that CyclingTips can provide content that I want to read. My consumption of cycling news in general is sort of down anyhow, and this will narrow and focus it further. Fine. In a competitive market, CyclingTips solved my information problem and that's worth paying for. 

Again, if you're reading this my guess is that you get it anyway, but it still shocks me how much bellyaching there is from entitled people who think people should do stuff for them for free. 

*yeah, new bike day on the horizon for both Mike and me. Mine's apparently much closer as I'm recycling a bunch of parts, which is both how I can afford it and how it's able to get done. We'll do full features on them soon. 


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  • Dave on

    Aaron – Fair enough. Factually, though, the sites don’t get bikes for free. They are loaned equipment for review and then send it back. And I do think it’s ok to charge for content and have ads. That happens all over the place these days. Alternative is no cycling content/coverage.

  • Aaron on

    The problem is when media sites double dip with the revenue. If you want to receive advertising dollars and product for review, then you can’t honestly think it’s okay to charge for that. If it’s original content, then fine. But in a product-heavy world, a lot of the content is just that. And it rubs people the wrong way when a mag gets a bike for free, sells a banner ad to the brand, then tries to bill the reader for the privilege of being advertised to. It’s gross.

  • Dave on

    AJ – I hear what you’re saying, but they still need revenue to operate. Having venture capital doesn’t mean your bills automatically get paid somehow. CyclingTips has gone to a limited paywall model and that’s how they pay said bills. You could say they’re heavy handed with their promo of VeloClub™ memberships. But the media landscape is changing so much. Look through a typical print “enthusiast category” magazine – bike magazines, fishing magazines, sailing magazines, etc – and the ads just aren’t there anymore. All the advertisers are trying to disintermediate (fancy word for reach their customers directly) while the media are all trying to gatekeeper/intermediate “their” audiences from the advertisers. We want like content, it’s just how that gets supported is totally upended now. Influencer strategies, social programs, all of these things are allowing brands to reach consumers in new, efficient, and often more credible ways.

    I may be just talking around in circles here but stuff has changed and it ain’t going back.

  • AJ on

    The only thing that bugs me is that every app and every web site is putting their hand out for $5-10/month. I’m not going to complain about it but just vote with my dollars. Sites or apps that provide an excellent service will get my money and I’ll never again visit all the others.

    CyclingTips, even though I really like the site and crew over there, bug me a little with their NPR like appeals. When a company like CyclingTips is owned by a heavy hitter (Outside Online) with venture capital money, please don’t tell me that you can’t pay the bills. Just say you are charging a fee and be done with it. I don’t need a sob story from a corporation.

  • Dave on

    All, thanks. These are really great to read. I’m sure there are (so far) silent disagreements out there and they’re certainly welcome to chime in if they choose. We don’t want this to be an echo chamber.

    Jordan – Brutal. There’s the “well you can’t blame me for asking” mindset but it’s just something I’d never do.

    Matt – We actually do have that as a line item. I think it’s listed at $80/hour. We’ve had like one inquiry on doing it. There’s for sure a sales cost baked into things, and on average it just about balances out. Some people are straight in with an order, some people it’s “please make sure I’m not getting the wrong thing” and some people go back and forth over an extended time period. If everyone wanted 3 hours pre-sale we’d have an issue but we just don’t now.

    There’s absolutely no malice at all toward people who go through an extended sales process, at all, I want to be sure that’s clear. But we’ve seriously gotten (rare) emails that are like “Zipp 303 versus 404 versus Roval CLX – which one is better for the riding that I do?” I don’t think that’s appropriate.

    FWIW, the only forum I really read is Paceline, and those guys are GRUMPY about the paywalls. I don’t get it. You can either choose to pay or choose not to, but the entitled business doesn’t make any sense to me.



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