B2B Agencies Content Marketing

The cost of content in B2B: What if we charged for whitepapers and other assets?

By Kimi Brown, Senior Content Writer

Don't be Shy


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June 6, 2024 | 9 min read

Content marketing in B2B is big business – but the producers of the work nearly always swallow the costs. Don’t be Shy’s Kimi Brown has a proposal: what if the reader paid?

A sea of American money

Cash for content: Why isn't B2B trying it? / Giorgio Trovato via Unsplash

Creating genuinely original, human-made content is expensive.

Add up the hours of research, planning, writing, amends, design and publication: the cost of producing honest-to-goodness thought-leadership content can easily run into the thousands.

It’s why podcasters share paid-for recordings on Patreon; streaming services charge for ad-free subscriptions; and online publications have paywalls. Commercialized content is an existential symptom of today’s digital marketplace – a way for creators to cover their costs and continue to produce high-quality content.

Meanwhile, the cost of creating B2B marketing content is undoubtedly going up. But now that every man and his Grok can create passable content, the overall quality is going down.

The web is awash with whitepapers and reports – some great; others not so great. But the same barrier to entry is in place for all content, no matter the quality. Readers simply submit their details to download the file – whether it’s an exclusive research report created by global experts, or AI-generated codswallop.

So, given the option, would people be prepared to pay for marketing content if it guaranteed quality over codswallop?

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As well as generating much-needed revenue, paywalls indicate superior quality: digital barriers behind which only the most interesting, inventive and in-depth content is hidden. The premium price tag gives content a premium status – and a ‘better’ service is something that people are always happy to pay for. There’ll always be a segment of internet users willing to pay for premium content – just as there’s always a segment of travellers willing to pay for first-class flights.

Hiding content behind a paywall is an effective way to set it apart from the endless swathes of free-to-access drivel. It helps to drive desirability and increase the perceived value of your insights.

Truly creative content is a form of art – inventive concepts and original thinking, carefully contextualized with bespoke designs. And just like art, it’s worth what people are willing to pay. If your audience is intrigued enough to pay to access your content, that’s all the validation you need. Build a paywall, and they will come.

This may seem like a bizarre idea right now, but stranger things have happened.

When Netflix first launched its streaming service in 2007, no one thought it would take off – but now the market is saturated. No one thought ad-free social media would catch on, but now more than 7 million people pay for Snaptchat+, and YouTube has surpassed 100 million Premium and Music users.

Looking back even further, no one thought newspaper paywalls would work, but they’re now widespread. Even The Guardian has finally succumbed to the reader-revenue model, restricting free access to 20 articles a month on its app.

But just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be.

Is charging for marketing content an ethical thing to do?

B2B marketing content inherently involves a value exchange.

With gated content, the value exchange is explicit. Readers share their contact details in exchange for access. And even with free-to-access content, there’s always some form of (often not-so-) hidden agenda: sales messages or calls to action that support the company’s campaign objectives.

In either case, the content is never entirely ‘free’. Readers always have to make some kind of ‘payment’ – sacrificing their data or attention. So wouldn’t it be better for readers to be customers rather than currency?

I can see three clear pros and three clear cons. First the pros:

  • Increased value perception: People often perceive paid content as more valuable than free content. By charging for high-quality content, companies can create a sense of exclusivity and secure their position as thought leaders.

  • Reduced operational costs: A paywall can cover the cost of content creation, allowing companies to continue creating high-quality content in a sustainable way.

  • Increased engagement and lead generation: People willing to pay for content are likely to be seriously invested in the subject matter and are more likely to engage with and act upon the information. This can help companies identify and cultivate an engaged audience that are more likely to convert into qualified leads.

But then there are the cons:

  • Reduced audience reach: Charging for content can reduce readership, limiting content exposure and potentially hindering audience growth. Paywalls could also alienate third-party publishing partners who don’t follow the same reader-revenue model.

  • Reputational damage: Readers may not perceive marketing content as valuable enough to warrant payment – especially if they’re accustomed to free access. Companies committed to the free sharing of information – such as The Guardian – could even face reputational backlash if the proposition is perceived as contradictory to their company values.

  • Increased value perception: Paid-for content is likely to be more harshly scrutinized by readers than freely available content, putting pressure on companies to continue creating high-quality content. Disgruntled paying customers are also more likely to voice their complaints and share negative feedback.

If you weigh the risks versus the rewards, charging customers to access B2B marketing content sounds like a pretty good idea. But to work, the payment process needs to be as simple and straightforward as possible. Perhaps creators could integrate mechanisms like Apple or Google Pay across all devices, or introduce a platform that pre-populates forms for one-click payments.

Right now, paid-for marketing content feels just out of reach. But it could easily be the direction the industry is heading. So I ask you: Quality over codswallop – is it worth the cost?

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