Corrigendum: We incorrectly reported in this interview that MoneyLife Smart Savers is a financial advisory service. Our apologies for the error. The interview below has been updated with corrections.
MoneyLife is a financial magazine that provides information on personal finance. Recently, the digital edition of the magazine went behind a pay wall following the launch of a financial information service called MoneyLife Smart Savers. In our interaction with Debashis Basu, Editor & Co-Founder of MoneyLife, he speaks about the reasons behind their decision to go behind a pay wall, archival content, monetisation on the web, Smart Savers, among other things.
On Going Behind a Pay Wall
Medianama: What all has been put behind a pay wall? What led to you taking this decision?
Basu: Everything that is in the magazine is totally behind the paywall. Anything that was digital including daily stories are still available on the website. We prefer to keep our digital (only) content free for more people to know about us and branding.
Frankly, I wanted to do this a long time ago. I don’t believe in the current architecture of Twitter, Facebook, that are free. Only big companies which are handful can take this bet of providing free content to build a customer base and user experience. Smaller companies cannot give their service for free. It is more advisable and strategic to charge especially when you are a single publication dependent on physical distribution and limited reach. With the internet, the reach is endless. I have subscribers from Kuwait and Toronto and I think charging them is the most logical thing to do. In the physical age, no one did it this way. They did it the Nirma way of selling products door to door.
Aroon Purie had spoken about this when Wall Street Journal went completely behind a pay wall. He had said that it is suicidal strategy to have things free on the internet. It is true and I think when people have something substantial to say in their content then they will be able to find many customers on the net who will also pay for it. We provide information on personal finance which is must know information. I can charge for all the effort that we are putting in resulting in direct monetary benefit to the readers.
Medianama: Why have you put your archival content behind a pay wall? How does that help?
Basu: In fact, archival content is even more chargeable. If you are not going to charge the readers for archival content then when are you going to? If something is old, there is no value for it. If I give you a magazine that is two years old, it would be no value to you. In that context, if someone is looking for something that is dated then it is of high value for him. There are some publications that in fact charge much higher for archival content.
Medianama: What is the percentage of traffic that you get for your archives?
Basu: Honestly, I don’t know. But all our readers have turned into subscribers so traffic to the archive must be a substantial number.
Medianama: How have you been monetising on the web so far?
Basu: Monetising on the web doesn’t work. Google is an absolutely useless thing for smaller organisations. People I know are, in fact, cursing Google ads. I have taken screen shots of these Google ads and compared them because it hasn’t worked for us. Only after trying it completely that I have decided on going behind the pay wall. Google ads are primitive. It gives no value to me or to the advertiser. I never felt that it was the right thing for us.
Medianama: What are the issues you face regarding advertising?
Basu: Most of the people I have met and spoken to about advertising on publications, have had problems measuring the effectiveness of ads.
Different pricing system is required for each medium but that hasn’t happened. Times of India has managed to do this well. They come and ask you about your budget and manage to get about 90% of that money in different ways. It doesn’t make sense for smaller companies like us that have only one publication.
Medianama: How do you sell online advertising (CPM/CPC/CPL/Time)?
Basu: We get very little money from Google. We want to launch value-added research and information services and community of savers and promote that. Advertising is not the name of the game for us. Since ad revenue is going to be small anyway so we are willing to sacrifice it. People pay for anything so we want to push our products, not our ad space.
Pricing of the Magazine
Medianama: What is the basis for the pricing of your magazine?
Basu: We don’t believe in discounting or giving products away. We charge the same price for both online and offline magazine. Buying circulation like India Today means that you have thrown your towel. It means people can’t differentiate between you and Outlook and so you have to resort to giving away products for subscription. However, we used to give discounts for our own books at events to increase foot falls but that was only for a year. We don’t do that anymore. I have been asked why we don’t discount digital content. That is because server space, design etc cost us and so we can’t afford to discount our digital content.
My belief that people are willing to pay on the net for anything they find worthwhile. The impulse buying for goods, can work for also for services (and information) if people are convinced that they cannot get the same stuff elsewhere. If so, for the first time, information can be like a product, sold on a cost plus basis, produced at one place and sold to a fragmented but potentially large market. We wanted to test this. What pushed us to try this is the deeply flawed system of google – both search and adwords
Medianama: What is the percentage of your online revenue vs your revenue from your magazine?
Basu: We don’t have an only-web monetisation model. If you subscribe to the offline magazine, you also get digital access to the magazine. 90% of our subscriptions come through online payments. Only 10% comes through offline means. We hardly get any cheques anymore.
Medianama: What additional models of monetization are you considering? How do you plan to monetize Life TV?
Basu: I haven’t really thought about video yet. We are mainly focused on getting our new product, Smart Savers out. It is going to be a separate company. Smart Savers will be an financial information service on savings, insurance and other financial services, based on proprietary research. It (Smart Savers) is a community of savers. They will buy a package of information and research products which will include the magazine.
But it is essentially a community of savers who are looking for a platform where they can get unbiased and actionable information. It is something like www.aarp.org. We will neither be distributors nor advisors. We will only provide a link to the websites of companies like mutual funds (like value research does). This is facility is free. We cannot earn commissions (because we are not distributors) nor will we be charging the members anything extra beyond membership fee for which they get all the information and research. We will be taking the videos from Youtube and including them in Smart Savers to add more value to the money that subscribers pay us.
The Rs. 2000 or Rs 2500 annual subscription fee for Smart Savers is going to be inclusive of the magazine.
In fact, the launch of the Smart Savers is one of the main reasons for our magazine to go behind the pay wall because I have to give people the digital access of the magazine anyway to the Smart Savers subscribers.
Response to Subscription Model
Medianama: Do you think subscription model works for Indians consuming content online? How has the response been so far for your paid service?
Basu: Readers are ready to pay for content that is relevant and useful. If you ask, people pay. You have to engage with them on social media. Sending emails to readers is old model. We engage with people regularly on social media. I use Twitter extensively and so does Sucheta. It is extremely important because it really extends the marketing arm. We have had tremendous response for our subscriptions in the first few days but later, it dropped a little. Our subscriptions orders come in at any time of the day. We have two subscription models – annual subscription of digital and offline magazine for Rs.799 and a monthly subscription of digital magazine and the archives for Rs. 99. I thought the monthly package for Rs.99 will be successful but most of them have subscribed for the annual package.