The publishing and advertising industry have hugely elevated the discussion around “native advertising” or “branded content” in the last year. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s essentially moving promotion from banner ads or pre-roll video (increasingly ineffective) to integrating messaging within the regular content readers are used to seeing (vastly more effective, though “morally ambiguous”). Buzzfeed is often cited as an example of a publisher doing this frequently and transparently.

When done right, this is a powerful form of monetization for publishers, when done poorly, it destroys the lifetime value of a readers and discredits writers and publshers.

A recent post by Nick Chirls over at Betaworks really crystalized something that my team and I at CentUp have been working on for the last 6 months. He calls it “native money,” we often refer to it as native payments. The idea is simple, but the behavioral change required to make it commonplace is not.

Native payment (in the context of content) is a mechanism for allowing readers to simply compensate publishers for content they enjoy. The difference between “native payments” and existing/traditional ones is subjective, but here’s my take on it:

1. It’s universal and neutral, not site specific.

If a reader wants to pay for a piece of online content,they’ll want to use the same payment system on countless other sites, and not have to sign-up for publisher-specific ones. People jump around the web and they don’t like paywalls because they don’t commit to a single publisher when consuming content each day.

2. It requires brutal simplicity.

Native content doesn’t make the reader have to work any harder. Native payments must strive for the same kind of simplicity. That means the closer any publisher can get to replicating the Amazon one-click solution, the better. Yes, Amazon takes an initial sign-up one time, but it’s stupidly easy after that.

3. It has to be acknowleged, and human.

Most publishers today ask for money mechanically, not personally.

“In order to read this article, please subscribe.”
“You’ve reached your monthly limit.”
“Like what you’ve read? Help keep our site free by donating.”

Here’s the reality: most people are used to free content and will continue to expect this unless creators start asking for money and explaining how they’ll use it. This means that on occassion, content should explicity remind people to pay for it until they start doing so naturally. A mechanical reminder doesn’t effectively remind a reader to contemplate why their monetary contributions are important, but a personal request will drastically increase that kind of thinking. Look at Kickstarter. Part of the reason it’s so successful (especially the content-focused projects) is people know where their money is going, and there’s a clear ask.

4. It’s evoked, not gated.

When people decide to buy something, they want to see what they get before they pay for it. As much as publishers want to paywall their content and ride on the coat-tails of the trust and interest they’ve earned in the past, gating content is never going to appeal to the masses. Smart native payments within good content will show people they’d be crazy NOT to compensate an author for content, instead of telling them they’re crazy for expecting that content to be free. (Yes, this is a tall order.)

Challenges

Technology: Websites aren’t cookie cutter environments. Lots of people (including us) are building solutions for publishers to build payments into their sites, but different platforms require different implementations. A drupal plugin, is not a wordpress plugin, is not a line of code in tumblr.

Behavior: People are used to paying for content (especially writing) indirectly. Looking at ads is the most common form of payment. There’s also providing data, or purchasing goods through a publisher’s site (affiliate marketing). You can read more about this here. But we all must be cautious about how much we’re willing to let such payments shift the quality and direction of the content we’re looking to consume. One of CentUp’s publisher’s Daniel Verastiqui perfectly summarized how native payments can improve the quality of content in a way that advertising dollars cannot.

Opportunities

Technology: Things like Napster, Limewire, and essentially…the internet, pushed people to start expecting music should be free. iTunes came along and showed artists that people were willing to pay for music if the exchange of value was more direct, and customizable. A good platform and a smart set of artists worked together to make this happen for music. Once again, technology and smart creators can make this happen for other formats.

Behavior: People want to feel good about paying for content, they don’t want to feel guilted into it. Native payments will see the most success from publishers and platforms who turn the act of payment into something that fuels vanity (this isn’t a negative thing), provides exclusivity, or offers contributors some kind of luxury besides being entertained or informed by the content they’re consuming.

Existing infrastructure

The payment space is a tough market to disrupt or build your business on. There are massive (stubborn) existing companies, patent trolls, and legal barriers to that roadblock innovation But we are working our hardest to bring about an important change for content creators. I also would like to commend our friends/competitors who are also fighting this battle. We all know we’re going to have to work together to help creators see more monetary love from their fans I want to publicly acknowledge how open and collaborative they’ve been thus far.

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