Is Creating a Unique Experience Enough To Get People to Pay for Digital Content?

By: Chris Crum - November 5, 2010

John Loughlin, Executive VP and GM of Hearst Magazines, which publishes Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and other popular titles, provided an inside look into Hearst’s content strategy for the digital age here at ad:tech NY. 

Do you think Hearst’s success in traditional publishing will extend to triumph in the online world? Let us know in the comments section.

With 14 magazines and 23 sites, the company has 40 apps to accompany them. "Our digital library is a huge asset," he said, later adding "It’s not just the assets. It’s what you do with them."

Hearst goes well beyond simply re-creating its print experiences for digital platforms whether they be the publications’ websites or mobile apps. For its sites it creates unique content. For its apps it not only creates unique content, but unique app experiences altogether. Many of Heart’s brand apps offer different services or entertaining experiences that aren’t just reading. And this goes beyond even video, audio, and animation. It’s about creating a interesting experience. 

John Loughlin of Hearst Talks Digital Content Strategy

None of these apps are free. Loughlin says that while much of the Blogosphere says this stuff should be free, he disagrees, noting that these bloggers should see the bills that come along with developing this stuff. 

"It’s not just about brand exposure," said Loughlin. "It’s about creating a sufficiently strong impression."

"When people ask me, ‘Is print dead?’ I say hell no" he added.

Hearst’s paid print subscriptions sold via the web have gone up significantly in the last four years.

While I’ve long been skeptical of the notion that a substantial amount of people will pay for digital content when there is so much other content available for free, 

Hearst has the right idea when it comes to making this work, I think, if it’s really going to.  It’s all about keeping it unique and creating interesting experiences beyond just readable (or even watchable or listenable) content.

Let us know what you make of Loughlin’s thoughts — and if you have any additional ideas — in the comments section.

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • sjackson

    This was interesting, but since I read none of the Hearst magazines, I have no idea what he is talking about. He says it is much more than video and sound but that it is an experience. I guess it would be helpful if there were a link to such an experience and then I could actually have an opinion!!

  • Hearst Mom Elle Fagan

    the Bible says “the workman is worthy of his hire” and yet , for 25 years IT people have been doing the miracle for a world in crisis – providing TOP quality content, essentially for free!

    Fine – but my son, a founder of Hearst’s and now with Hearst in Houston and running allover the place getting this upgrade in IT world DONE….is nobody’s “eee-Dgit”( or Idiot if phonetic low Irish is not easy for you).

    He is worthy of his hire – and yet we all run to that paper and most of the others for free.

    Still, the thing could not be done till the public respected online content and , in their hearts, realized that the internet is NOT one more fun tech toy , entirely, but the actualization of one more wonderful part of what we ARE !

    It ought to be simple – we pay for our other subscriptions , we should pay for online as much or even more, because of the exciting formats IT can share with us that are NOT possible for other media.

    And yet it has taken all this time.

    Nice to see it.

    God bless you all

    Such fun to watch my grown children growing, still, as adults , in work and play


  • salon

    I agree with jackson, this is a little hard to follow, maybe Im losing it in my old age but I dont get it.

  • Craig Davidenko

    Newpapers,magazines,traditional media…………..all have been sleeping at the wheel. All have been wrapped up into corporate fog. For any one of these mediums trying to recreate themselves in this moment in time is to say the least “ignorant”! High salaries,multiple layers of management……all of which did nothing for the movement to todays ” real media”. To ask one to pay for online content “one will have to attract the masses that are seeking to spend their advertising budgets not people signing up for memberships!

  • McWebster


  • newsmild

    his is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know
    about this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue
    with you (not that I really would want…HaHa). You definitely
    put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years.
    Great stuff, just great!