Every professional content creator faces a dilemma. On the one hand, you’d love to make your content as widely available as possible in order to grow your audience. On the other hand, you need to make money to pay the bills, so it’s unavoidable to add some friction in the form of paywalls, ads, and exclusive content for supporters. But those speed bumps inevitably turn away some potential followers. Content behind a paywall is less shareable, less searchable, and even users who would be happy to support you may be turned away by the hassle of signing up.
Coil is building towards a future where anyone who is willing to pay for content can get one subscription from any provider that works everywhere. Supporting creators becomes automatic and no longer depends on an oligopoly of huge content platforms. Users would no longer need a dozen subscriptions just because the content they enjoy is stuck on a multitude of different sites.
However, for this to work, there need to be incentives for users to sign up. And, initially, many users won’t have a subscription. In other words, the fundamental dilemma for creators remains: Do you make your content exclusive to paying users or freely available to everyone?
You’ve probably seen this with some newspapers. A couple sentences are free, then comes the dreaded paywall. This makes the article difficult or impossible to share with friends or colleagues, and less likely to pop up on search engines. As a result, it won’t get nearly as much attention.
In order to address that, paywalls are often designed to be “leaky”, meaning they can be bypassed in some instances. Unfortunately, this only adds to the confusion. If I share an article and everyone complains that they can’t access it, I’ll never share an article from that site again.
An even bigger problem is that by showing a paywall right away, the user has had no chance to get emotionally invested in the content or its creator. Unless they already recognize the author or the publication, it’s just another anonymous article behind a paywall, quickly forgotten.
Perhaps the best option is to create a true split between free and paid content? The idea is to use the free content to attract an audience and upsell them the premium content.
This is a lot of work for creators who now have to create twice as much content: A full suite of free content to attract and sustain an audience and a full suite of premium content to keep a subset of that audience subscribed and paying. Many creators are already stretched thin just to produce their free content, so this model is not for everyone.
On the user’s side, it’s not ideal either. The problem is that if I just got done reading one article, it’s easy for me to walk away without reading that other one.
Put another way, this model is breaking the oldest rule in e-commerce: The highest friction should coincide with the highest engagement. This is why online shops usually ask for your payment details as late as possible. You’ve already put the items in your cart and you’ve already typed in your address which means you’re already invested.
Let’s apply this principle to content!
What if most of the content was free but there was closely related bonus content? For example, picture a recipe for delicious banana pudding with slices of fresh banana. It has all the steps, gorgeous high-definition images of the whole process, and it’s all free. But there is also a paid bonus section that describes a wonderful whipped cream topping that would go great with the pudding.
Note that at the heart of this strategy is a beautiful, free piece of content. An article you’d be proud to share, presented in a user friendly, search engine friendly format with no paywall. This is why we call it the 100+20 rule and not the 80/20 rule: The free portion is meant to be complete, satisfying and independently useful.
As a user, first I get to read a nice, high-quality article. Then, once I get to the end, I’m offered the option to support the creator and get bonus content. Reading the article already gave me an emotional connection both to the author and the topic - I’m already picturing myself enjoying that delicious, delicious banana pudding. And I know that the bonus content would make it even better plus I’d be doing the right thing by supporting the author. It’s the same mix of feel-good altruism with tangible benefits that has made crowdfunding so successful.
This doesn’t mean that every reader will sign up. But it increases the likelihood and it still provides a great experience for free users, making it more likely that they will share the content or sign up in the future.
Additionally, it puts less burden on the creator. Rather than having to create an entire suite of separate premium content, they can use material that came up while researching the main article and turn it into relevant, and therefore valuable, bonus material.
Coil allows you to choose how much of your content is free and how much of it is paid. That means you can experiment with all of these models and even come up with your own. But we encourage you to give 100+20 a try!
This article was written by Stefan Thomas.
We did some brainstorming and came up with 10 examples showing how the 100+20 rule could be applied to different content.
For an article
• Raw interviews
• Anecdotes that came up during research
• The author’s notes
• The author’s personal opinion
For a song or album
• Download link for the song
• High-definition version
• Karaoke version
• Raw samples for remixing
For a podcast
• Additional chit-chat with the guest(s) “off-the-record”
• Bonus topic
• Secret ingredient
• Best brands of ingredients for this recipe
• Variations of the recipe
• Additions (extra topping / sauce)
For a live streamer
• Access to a special community (Discord, game server, etc.)
• Special badge in chat
• Access to unique emoji
• Higher resolution stream
• Ad-free stream
For a YouTube channel
• Access to “inside the episode” videos
• Un-cut footage
For a web application
• Disable ads
• More configuration options
• Priority processing (server-side)
• More cloud storage space
For a social media site
• Special badge to show supporter status
• Exclusive forum/community for supporters
For a language lesson
• Downloadable flashcards
• Additional example dialog involving the same vocabulary
For any other course
• Access to a special forum for posting questions
• Interactive lessons
• More practice questions (with correct answers)