When the New York Times originally put its best content behind a paywall, headlines across the Internet announced that the paper was signing its own death certificate. A decade, and 8+ million subscribers later, the 170-year-old media company is now generating more revenue from subscribers than from advertisers for the first time ever.

As if to further validate that the newspaper was ahead of its time, readers and listeners are now happily paying for content via Patreon, Substack, Twitch, YouTube, and just this week Apple Podcasts launched a subscription option.

The same “experts” who predicted that no one would pay for news when there’s an entire Internet full of alternatives also told us that brands must invest their time and resources to publish a fire hose of high quality content, and expect nothing in return except the vague promise that magical algorithms would somehow deliver them value in the long run.

That idea has become so ingrained that it can be blasphemous in marketing circles to suggest that there could be any other option.

Here’s the alternative reality I see:

  1. The digital economy has matured to the level where people are willing to exchange real value for the content that they consume
  2. Our job, as marketers, is to attract people to what our brands are doing
  3. Many of us have developed the ability to produce really good content
  4. The algorithms haven’t delivered on their promise of magic

If all of the above are true, then the solution is simple: Ask people to pay for your content.

I’m not suggesting that many (or any) of us should be adding a media business to our portfolios. Instead, I’m suggesting that there are much more valuable ways that people can pay for our content than with their cash. The question for each of us is: What is the most valuable action or outcome that we can get from our audiences? The answer may be their loyalty, and an introduction to more people like them.

When we’re creating legitimately excellent content that a specific audience loves, then it should be nothing to ask them for permission to share the next version of what we’ve created, and to pass it along to a few more interested people. For many brands that means an email opt-in, for others it’s a subscription to receive audio or video content.

If you’re putting regular content out into the world and it’s gaining you the awareness that you need to drive your business, then that’s fantastic – keep doing what you’re doing. However, if you feel like you’re getting the raw end of the deal – that your audience gets to consume all day for free and that the platforms are making Billions by asking you to promote your content, while you’re left doing all of the work, then perhaps you can take a cue from the rebels at the NY Times.

Your point of value is going to correlate with the key challenge that your brand has to overcome in order to attract and retain customers, the only question remaining is where?

Now, if you don’t feel comfortable asking people for any of those things, then it’s worth asking: How can we create content that’s so valuable that people would be happy to pay for it?

Here’s a simple example:

That’s our not-so-subtle way of saying: If this article is valuable to you, then we’d love to have you sign up for The Brief (and tell your friends about it too).