At what point can you call something a bandwagon? Because it would be real easy to lump Beacon in with the other sites like Byliner, Medium, or even The Magazine, all trying to cultivate “quality writing.” Beacon is of course interested in curating important writing, but they don’t want the platform to be the focus--that is, they’re taking the emphasis away from what this really is: a new model for a paywall.
Asking readers to pay for writing online leads to obvious complications which aren’t beneficial to growing readership. Sharing links doesn’t work, for example, and (if the publisher is of the freemium persuasion) the onus is on them to decide how much free content to give away before asking the reader to pay up. Beacon’s response to this problem is human connection. CTO Dmitri Cherniak says “We see the paywall as an opportunity to introduce the writer as the primary selling point, and not the platform. If you like a story or are interested in it, we want to get you face to face with the writers as fast as possible.” That, he thinks, will close the sale.
Putting a picture and video front and center, letting the writer explain exactly what they do may help overcome any resentment someone following a link may feel when being told to pay up to finish the article. Part of this strategy that appeals to the reader’s human side also requires a demographic that understands the value of journalism. Which may be why most of the initially invited writers cover international issues and topics.
If you browse over and take a look at the paywall in action, it seems pretty straightforward. Partway through the article there’s a paper tear where the site asks for a $5/month fee, most of which goes to that writer. Cherniak explains that behind the scenes, it’s a lot more complicated than it looks. “The paywall is served up regardless of how the content is store on the backend--whether it's markdown, json, plain text, html etc., and actually generates a segment that's readable. The tears look random because their offset is generated dynamically but we actually alter the text to make it more interesting. They appear abrupt but still stylish because we do calculations to make it break at a visually appealing point.”
Cofounder Adrian Sanders says he doesn’t know if a paywall would work for a business like Fast Company, but adds “I think one thing we're seeing is that there's clearly a market of people willing to pay for content; whether it's music, movies, or news, the trend grows every year.” In that vain, Beacon is clearly trying to position their reader-writer funded model similar to that of Netflix or Spotify. Why pay $35 for the New York Times when you can spend just $5 to directly support a writer and gain access to all of their writers? It’s a broad brushstroke, but one Beacon is hoping will appeal to some readers. In the end, there’s no easy way to ask for money, but when the writer gets a chance to directly, through video, explain themselves, it becomes a little simpler.
[Image: Flickr user Camilo Rueda López]