Multimedia production company MediaStorm says it will start charging viewers $1.99 for access to each of its stories under a new system it calls Pay Per Story. “We have decided it is time to try a new model that transfers a minimal cost to the viewer,” company founder and executive producer Brian Storm said in a prepared announcement. “We believe that our industry is in need of a sustainable business model that will allow us to continue to report and produce compelling stories.”
Until now, MediaStorm has produced and distributed stories for free, relying on revenue from workshops and corporate clients to sustain the company. But Storm said in his announcement, “[T]he reality is, no company or industry can sustain itself for long without producing a product for which people are willing to pay.” He told PDN that production costs for MediaStorm stories vary, but can be as high as $100,000 for the largest stories.
MediaStorm is initiating Pay Per Story with the launch of two new stories about old-age dementia: “A Shadow Remains” by Philip Toledano, and “Rite of Passage” by Maggie Steber. Both stories are about the decline of the photographers’ parents, and their struggles with the responsibility of being their parents’ caregivers.
“We’ve earned the right to do this,” Storm told PDN of his decision to charge viewers. “We’ve put a lot of [stories] out there for a long time, and built a great audience.”
Most of the more than 30 stories the company has produced since 2005 have had a million or more views, Storm says. Many are issue-driven stories, which draw large audiences outside the photo industry, he says. The stories are also what he calls “non-perishable” so views accumulate over several years. “We’ll make our money back over a long period of time” under the Pay Per Story system, he says.
The big question is whether viewers will be willing to pay for the company’s long-form stories, which cover serious topics and have run times of 12 to 20 minutes. In other words, the stories aren’t light entertainment, and require time commitment on the part of viewers.
Storm is confident viewers will pay in significant numbers, however. Asked what pay-per-view content models he was taking cues from, Storm said, “iTunes–30 billion apps downloaded.” He also says MediaStorm “could have easily” charged more than $1.99, “but that would have resulted in less sales and we wanted a price point that was low enough where people wouldn’t think twice about the cost.”
At the same time, though, he said he doesn’t expect the $1.99 fee to fully cover the costs of production. “That would be amazing if it did,” he said. For that to happen, the most expensive stories would have to attract 100,000 viewers–or up to 10 percent of the current non-paying audiences–who are willing to pay (MediaStorm is splitting the download revenues 50-50 with the photographers who provide the story content).
Storm told PDN that MediaStorm has not made projections about viewership under the Pay Per Story model, however. Asked whether MediaStorm might stop producing stories if it turns out that not enough viewers are willing to pay, Storm said, “No, we will continue to do what we do no matter what happens as this is only one of the various ways that we generate revenue.”
MediaStorm has made a deal to embed its proprietary Pay Per Story player on MSNBC’s web site. It claims 50 million unique visitors per month. They will be able to watch trailers for the MediaStorm stories for free. Storm is optimistic that exposure will contribute significantly to MediaStorm’s paying audience.
Storm said in the Pay Per Story announcement that MediaStorm plans to license its Pay Per Story player to other companies in the future “so they can also leverage the business model and functionality that we have developed.”
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