Is $0.99 The Way To Change Consumer Behavior?

At the 2010 Media Summit conference last week, Arthur Sulzberger and Janet Robinson talked more about their get-consumers-to-pay digital strategy.  While they didn’t reveal any major new details, they did expose a couple of wrinkles by implying that there will be more apps and value-adds that they will look to upsell consumers on.

When I asked them about training consumers to pay for content, Arthur Sulzberger initially brushed it aside saying their “loyalists” are willing to pay for their intensive usage.  I pressed further:  what about getting the mass market of consumer audiences – not just the heavy users – to start opening their wallets?  Sulzberger’s reply:  no new behaviors are required.

Sulzberger got it wrong:  getting consumers to habitually pay for content is certainly a change in behavior.  James McQuivey at Forrester recently looked back on decades of media models and called it:  “People don’t pay for content, and never have. They pay for access to content.”

But Arthur Sulzberger’s statement belied some of the actions that the New York Times is taking that are in synch with changing consumer behavior.  Early this week, Damon Kiesow at Poynter.org reported that the New York Times will be “disaggregating” their book review – in order to charge for it a la carte in appetizer-sized portions.

Which makes me wonder:  is bite-size the new way to get consumers to pay?

It has this going for it: between iPhone apps and iTunes songs, the bite-size purchase is absolutely the most successful model so far when it comes to changing consumer behavior en masse.  It’s easy, it’s fast, and it’s economical.  At about a buck, most importantly it’s stress-free and totally disposable.  It removes much of the barrier of consideration from software and media purchases that is present in other consumer-pay models.

Regardless of what its leaders are saying in public, it looks like the New York Times is betting on big changes to how people consume and pay for content: and that will come in packages big and small.