Home  › Marketing › Strategies

The Challenge of Online Publishing: Content Worth Paying For

  |  January 12, 2001   |  Comments

ClickZ writer Dana Blankenhorn thinks a publisher's challenge is to extract value for his or her marketing partners in creative ways. Andy thinks if we can't create content worth paying for, we may not have a viable business.

This week, the business model discussion and debate continues. Next week, I promise, I'll shift gears. But this is important...

This past weekend I got an email from fellow ClickZ writer Dana Blankenhorn, which reflected the views many hold:

"Readers are already paying for your content," Dana wrote.

"They're paying with the most valuable commodity they have -- their time. When you demand their money as well, or demand more time as the price for giving their time, you're demanding something that is less valuable than what you already have.

"There are many ways to monetize time and attention other than advertising," he suggested.

"You can earn more time and attention by not just advocating the marketplace you represent, but helping to organize it. When you organize your marketplace, you will lead your readers further down the sales funnel. The further down the sales funnel you lead your readers, the more you're 'earning' for your market partners from each transaction. Your challenge as a publisher then becomes to extract this value in creative ways.

"If you can offer your marketing partners sales, not just prospects, or qualified, educated prospects, not just generic click-throughs, don't you deserve more money from those partners? Of course you do. You earned it. And you'll get it."

Well, I need to respond. So here goes.

Dear Dana,

A reader's time may be valuable, but, unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills.

Most publications -- and I'm talking here about for-profit publications, not side ventures or hobbies -- have to pay their writers; their web designers; their ad-serving bureau; their network, sales rep, or rep firm; their editorial team; their programmers; their landlord; their utilities; their lawyers and accountants... While it is quite possible to launch and operate a very low overhead online venture -- and ClickZ is living proof of that -- for most operations, it's quite difficult.

No doubt, advertising and sponsorships represent a significant revenue stream, and for many businesses (I would count ClickZ as among the fortunate few), that might be enough to live on. But you really need to play it smart: Get the right audience, a group of sponsors anxious to pay top dollar to get in front of them, and great content to keep them loyal.

As for "marketing partners," let's call it what it really is: cost-per-acquisition advertising. It means that you absorb all the risk so that a company can reach your audience for free, only paying when a sale is made, a subscription is placed, or a click goes through to a target destination.

The publisher -- who doesn't control the product, the message, the advertisement, the destination page, or the order form (which matters!) -- is somehow totally responsible to deliver buyers to his or her "marketing partner."

I don't call that "partnership." I call it risk-free, no-cost advertising for the marketer.

And I honestly don't believe it's the publisher's job to deliver a sale while somehow maintaining editorial integrity. Are we retailers, or are we publishers?

If you truly believe in the wisdom of the ideas you propose here, I'd challenge you to take the web site and email list you have owned for a number of years now -- A-Clue.Com -- and make it a real business -- a profitable one -- under those guidelines.

While I would love to see the "free content" model continue on the Net, the drying up of VC and IPO money, which funded content development and the advertising that supported it, will cause either the collapse of that business model or the shift of costs to those who derive the benefit of good content: the readers.

As a loyal Salon.com reader, I am ready and willing to pay a subscription to continue to read Salon content every day. And I don't mind a bit if that content also includes advertising. Salon writers produce great stuff, and I want the magazine not only to survive, but to thrive and prosper.

To produce that kind of commitment and loyalty among our readers will be the challenge for online publishers in the coming years.

If you can't create content worth paying a few cents to read, you may not have a viable business.

Best regards,

Andy

ClickZ Live New York What's New for 2015?
You spoke, we listened! ClickZ Live New York (Mar 30-Apr 1) is back with a brand new streamlined agenda. Don't miss the latest digital marketing tips, tricks and tools that will make you re-think your strategy and revolutionize your marketing campaigns. Super Saver Rates are available now. Register today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Bourland

Andy Bourland was cofounder and former publisher and CEO of ClickZ. He and Ann Handley launched the site in 1997 and sold it three years later to INT Media Group. In columns he wrote for ClickZ from 1998 to 2002, Andy provided practical advice to online marketers and publishers alike, frequently weaving in takeaways from real-life on- and offline experiences. Andy launched his own blog, Bourland.com, in 2005, continuing to write about online marketing up until his disclosure that he was facing a terminal illness. He died Feb. 16, 2009, at the age of 53.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

UPCOMING TRAINING

Featured White Papers

Google My Business Listings Demystified

Google My Business Listings Demystified
To help brands control how they appear online, Google has developed a new offering: Google My Business Locations. This whitepaper helps marketers understand how to use this powerful new tool.

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line
82 percent of shoppers say they would buy more items from a brand if the emails they sent were more personalized. This white paper offer five tactics that will personalize your email beyond the subject line and drive real business growth.

WEBINARS

    Information currently unavailable

Jobs

    • Lead Generation Specialist
      Lead Generation Specialist (The Oxford Club) - BaltimoreThe Oxford Club is seeking a talented writer/marketer to join our growing email lead-generation...
    • Health Marketing Editor
      Health Marketing Editor (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreCome flex your intellectual muscle as part of Agora, Inc’s (http://agora-inc.com/) legal team...
    • Marketing Systems Analyst
      Marketing Systems Analyst (OmniVista Health) - BaltimoreOmniVista Health is looking to add a Marketing Systems Analyst to our expanding team. We...