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This article was published on January 6, 2012

How not to sell your content online

How not to sell your content online
Alex Wilhelm
Story by

Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

Here’s a small tip: when asking people to pay for your content, don’t make the experience of paying suck.

I want to walk you through a media buying experience that I just endured, to illustrate how not to collect money for your written content. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t charge for things; if you want to, please do. I’m utterly fine with paying for content, I simply don’t want to burn through my time working to give you money. I want it to be quick.

While that might appear a bit selfish, I think that putting up roadblocks in front of your customers as they move towards handing you cash is a bit silly.

Now, a short note: I love politics. I only go to bed at night when I have read every single news and opinion article on politics that I can find. This means that I usually look like hell in the morning, and akin to a maniac at 3 am in bed with the iPad. This is only cogent as it is the launching point for our little story.

I clicked on a link tweeted by a Politico author that I enjoy, and was greeted with this:

Obviously, I had to read the article, as it was political, so I clicked on the ‘buy now’ button. This took me to a standard PayPal page:

Happily, I keep a little money in my PayPal account, so I had the funds on hand to spend the dollar from my balance. I want to point out that things have been aesthetically miserable, but functional thus far. I finished paying, and was then shunted here:

Oh bite me. I now had to wait for mail, bringing me five minutes into the process of trying to read an article that I would likely consume in around 20 seconds. Patience level: declining. The email arrived, and assigned to me a temporary password, which it sent to the email address associated with my PayPal account. Click here, the email said, which took me here:

What? Yeah, they went there. But alright, I practically live in WordPress, so I typed in my email address, pasted in my password, and was then shunted here:

Yep, the front page, and not the article that I just had to buy. Fortunately for me, it’s the top story, but if it had fallen below the fold, or even to page two, I would have been forced to hunt for the content that I had purchased. However, the payment did finally work, and when I clicked on the right link, after all that hassle, I got all 283 words of the article. Reading it took about 20 seconds, as expected, or a minute fraction of the time that it took for me to get to the damn content.

Let’s come up some rules for selling content:

  • It should take no more than one-fourth of the time that a person will spend reading the article, paying for the article;
  • If you want to charge per article, you are probably doing it wrong;
  • If you insist on doing so, ensure that the microtransaction is utterly friction free. This is to say I should click buy, enter my password to PayPal and then be sent right back the now unlocked article. Any more steps and my time is being wasted along with your bandwidth.
  • Don’t sell articles that are 283 words long. Especially if they are in serious need of an edit.
Alright, I’ll go back to my curmudgeon cave now.