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

    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.

  • Matthew on

    RE: A customer requesting you email back and forth about a wheel build , components ,ect . Maybe charge a consultation fee , deductible from a purchase price . I would never ask a lot of questions , get guidance , and then buy somewhere else . Your time and knowledge is very valuable .

  • Michael on

    You know, this write up went a good deal further in maybe convincing me to pay for their subscription than their own announcement…

  • Dave on

    Thanks everyone. Another Dave – we’ve really fallen down on the categorization of posts from Day 1. Sorry about that, it’s terrible, and it would really help. Maybe we’ll hire an intern to go through and do that. It’s way outside of my skill set.

    In my mind, this blog is closest to advertising, right? It’s content marketing. Anyone should feel free to contradict me if I’m off base, but I feel like we’re pretty objective about things. We certainly state our case and perspective for how and why we do things that we do, but it’s just supposed to be good info that we learn in the course of being super involved with this silly corner of the universe called bike wheels. So in any case to put us in the same bucket as news sites with paywalls wasn’t what I meant to do.

    On emails, I mean the amount of my day spent on emails is crazy. And if there’s good faith on the other end, great. I could be better about being efficient and spend less time on this part of things. It’s just the line between “I’m genuinely trying to get the best info I can to make sure I’m buying the right wheels and there’s a likelihood I’ll buy from you” and “hey why don’t you tell me everything you know about wheels, and I know I’m not going to buy from you.” It happens in every shop in the universe every day, I’m sure.

  • paul on

    This is a great sequel to your “There is no free shipping” post 4-5 years ago. Everything we consume has a cost, but we rarely have to confront those costs unless the market forces us to do so. I joined CyclingTips last year because I felt guilty about freeloading mass quantities of outstanding content, and I’m now being forced to prioritize other information sources and make deliberate decisions about about my media consumption.

    If there’s any problem, it might lie in the onslaught of subscription-based services. It’s hard to wean oneself off free stuff, and when all that free stuff suddenly needs dozens of special accounts for access, the number crunching and deliberation over “do I really want this particular stuff?” can feel overwhelming. I suspect we’ll all get used to it over time.



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