Choosing a Digital Content Strategy: How Much Should be Free?

International Journal of Research in Marketing, 31(2), 192-206.

Columbia Business School Research Paper Series

39 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2011 Last revised: 15 Sep 2014

Daniel Halbheer

HEC Paris - Marketing

Florian Stahl

University of Mannheim - Department of Business Administration and Marketing; University of Zurich - Department of Business Administration (IBW)

Oded Koenigsberg

London Business School - Department of Marketing

Donald R. Lehmann

Columbia Business School - Marketing

Date Written: August 9, 2013

Abstract

Advertising supported content sampling is ubiquitous in online markets for digital information goods. Yet, little is known about the profit impact of sampling when it serves the dual purpose of disclosing content quality and generating advertising revenue. This paper proposes an analytical framework to study the optimal content strategy for online publishers and shows how it is determined by characteristics of both the content market and the advertising market. The strategy choice is among a paid content strategy, a sampling strategy, and a free content strategy, which follow from the publisher's decisions concerning the size of the sample and the price of the paid content. We show that a key driver of the strategy choice is how sampling affects the prior expectations of consumers, who learn about content quality from the inspection of the free samples. Surprisingly, we find that it can be optimal for the publisher to generate advertising revenue by offering free samples even when sampling reduces both prior quality expectations and content demand. In addition, we show that it can be optimal for the publisher to refrain from revealing quality through free samples when advertising effectiveness is low and content quality is high. To illustrate, we relate our framework to the newspaper industry, where the sampling strategy is known as the "metered model."

Keywords: Information Goods, Content Pricing, Sampling, Advertising, Dorfman-Steiner Condition

JEL Classification: L11, L15, L21, M21, M30

Suggested Citation

Halbheer, Daniel and Stahl, Florian and Koenigsberg, Oded and Lehmann, Donald R., Choosing a Digital Content Strategy: How Much Should be Free? (August 9, 2013). International Journal of Research in Marketing, 31(2), 192-206.; Columbia Business School Research Paper Series. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1923837 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1923837

Daniel Halbheer

HEC Paris - Marketing ( email )

Paris
France

Florian Stahl

University of Mannheim - Department of Business Administration and Marketing ( email )

Germany

University of Zurich - Department of Business Administration (IBW) ( email )

Hottingerstrasse 10
Plattenstrasse 14
Zurich, 8032
Switzerland

Oded Koenigsberg (Contact Author)

London Business School - Department of Marketing ( email )

Sussex Place
Regent's Park
London, NW1 4SA
United Kingdom

Donald R. Lehmann

Columbia Business School - Marketing ( email )

New York, NY 10027
United States

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