When Ads Go Bad: CalorieCount Thinks You’ll Want to Pay for This

Mr. Lebovic.

CalorieCount.com, which launched in 2004 and was bought by the New York Times Company/About.com in 2006, has always been free to users. But like many ad-supported sites, CalorieCount is looking for another way. Last week the company introduced a new freemium feature: a social network based on your food logs. Post your dietary activity, and the community leaves supportive comments. CalorieCount is hoping that once users get a taste of what it’s like to get caloric feedback, they’ll start craving the premium product: feedback from a professional nutritionist. CalorieCount is offering different options for users who want to talk to a nutritionist, via daily feedback in the comments, in a weekly consultation or by phone, in a service called Calorie Camp.

Rates for mobile apps are much lower than ad rates on the web, due in part to most advertisers’ inability to figure out how to convert mobile users. Meanwhile, co-founder Igor Lebovic found that increasingly, calorie counters wanted to access the site from their phones.

The company is hoping that users will like the new features enough to pay for the nutritionist perk—and according to results from a few hundred beta testers, the outlook is good. “We’re asking you to pay less money than you would have to pay for the same service in the real world,” Mr. Lebovic said, noting that personal nutritionists are considered an unaffordable luxury by most.

CalorieCount is also working with another New York startup called Earndit, which will source rewards that users can earn if they do well in the dieting game, and as an incentive to leave feedback.

CalorieCount has 3.2 million registered members and about five million unique visitors a month for 50 million pageviews, Mr. Lebovic said. The app is available for iPhone and Android, he said, and has had about 500,000 and 100,000 downloads from the respective stores. “We’re now wondering how to monetize all these people,” he said.

The new Calorie Camp feature will be available in the beginning of January, he said. (Mr. Lebovic clarified this by email: “Our premium services were made available to a few hundred people in a private beta last week. With today’s launch we started a waitlist for requests, and will publicly launch the service in early January.”)

CalorieCount’s move toward a freemium fee-for-service model is indicative of a trend, Mr. Lebovic said. “As mobile apps are taking off, developers are shifting their business models from advertising to transactional models (service-oriented businesses with real people fulfilling tasks), because that has a better chance of monetizing,” he wrote in an email to Betabeat. “Interesting side effect: the web properties are being remodeled following this new system as well.”

Calorie Camp Intro from Calorie Count on Vimeo. When Ads Go Bad: CalorieCount Thinks You’ll Want to Pay for This