To refresh, the big problem we face as “content creators” is that content is being separated from our delivery means. RSS, syndication, Google News, etc. is removing the message from the medium and transplanting it in all sorts of new and different places, and it’s not bringing the advertising so many of us rely on for revenue with it.
Howard Weaver at Etaoin Shrdlu has been discussing much the same thing, from the point of view of a newspaper editor at McClatchy, specifically in light of the demise of TimeSelect, and with it the prospects of selling online subscriptions in the news industry.
It’s all about advertising. As I’ve noted many times, newspapers don’t really charge for content anyhow. Since it (often) costs more to print and distribute the paper than we charge for subscriptions, we’re already giving it away in order to build an audience we can charge advertisers for.
But if we strip the advertising from the content, we’re left with the stuff that won’t pay the bills. He cites Scott Karp over at Publish 2.0 who notes that free content still isn’t free, it’s just a matter of who’s actually collecting the dollars.
What I realized is that, actually, it’s NOT free. To read the New York Times or any other newspaper online, I have to be connected to the internet — and that, in most cases, is definitely NOT free.
Broadband internet access at home is still in the $40-50 range. I pay Verizon extra to access the internet on my Blackberry. I pay extra to use my Blackberry as a tethered modem. Traveling to the New York the other day, I paid for WiFi access in TWO different hot spots because my tethered modem kept dropping the connection (not a coincidence I think). Companies pay for high speed lines for their employees. And we of course pay a lot for the computers and handheld devices that we use to access the Internet (e.g., iPhone).
So here’s a case study for you to work on. I have a content/community site that’s seeing decreased traffic, declining banner sales and a dramatic drop in Adsense revenue. We won’t be hiring the luminaries in the sport to write about it (we’ve done that, and now the content turns up all over the web).
My thoughts are that we’re going to need to foster the community angle. We’ll need to stop thinking like we’re an online magazine, and start thinking more in terms of value add components. My general list:
- Widgets – we go where our readers go and offer them a service
- User Generated Content – provide them better means to provide us with the content everyone else wants.
- Mashups – make use of mapping mashups (not necessarily Google) to increase the user experience
- Provide Social Levels – allow readers to keep some things among their friends. Go to an “Add Me” function that will provide an impetus for users to be of value to the community.
- Del.icio.us – Think of ways to allow users to categorize, fold, spindle and mutilate content from around the web to our benefit. Don’t rebuild if you don’t have to – reuse and repurpose.
- Sell what sells – online classifieds for the niche, sponsorship placement, etc.
- Clearly identify our value proposition as it applies to: sponsors/advertisers, users/readers, and us, the owners/editors. If it doesn’t work for any one group, then it’s a failed model and it’s got to be fixed. Even though this is at the bottom of the list, it’s actually the first thing to do.
Is that the answer? I don’t know. Think about it and I’m open to suggestions. If anyone wants to approach this as an exercise and flex their gray matter on it, email me and I’ll give you the details.