Content: Time Saved Versus Time Spent

They say content is king, but the Internet has very often treated content as a pauper. We are now, however, experiencing a period of transition with regard to everything to do with content. It’s a period in which the focus will be on the value of content and how to make a profit from delivering that content value to the reader.

The Internet has its roots in academia, the original knowledge economy. Academics and students are keen to share content and are often not concerned about a direct financial return. As the commercial world and the general public enthusiastically wrapped their arms around the Web in the mid-1990s, they didn’t just embrace the technology.

Academia gave the young Web a liberal education, and the young Web loved it. However, a vital piece was missing in the education: the knowledge that content within an academic setting is free only on the surface. Academics don’t necessarily want to get paid directly for their content (although that would be nice). But they do very much want to see a return. Academia can be as competitive as anything else.

Academia has a fundamental survival principle: Publish or perish! It’s about getting your name and ideas out there. You may not get paid directly for the expression of these ideas; you will, however, get more research funding, a full-time position, a raise in salary, a nice ego massage. If you don’t publish, it matters little how good your ideas or research is — you will sink or stagnate.

I write this column to get my name and ideas out there. It may say that it’s free, but I know that it’s not. There’s a cost. You are paying, this very minute, this very second, with the most valuable resource you have: your time.

You might as well be writing me a check or handing over cash. It’s costing you. And here lies the new model, not unlike the old model, for measuring the value of content. The value of content can be measured from a time perspective. There will always be a Web full of massive quantities of “free” content. All it will cost is your time.

It’s not that difficult to create a time model to establish the basic value of content. Let’s look at an example. John is a busy manager. John’s productivity value is $200 per hour. In other words, over a year, John creates $400,000 of revenue.

John needs to track changes in the chemical industry. When it comes to the Web, he has two basic choices: He can track all the various Web sites himself, figuring out the good from the bad, or he can pay $2,000 per year for a personalized chemical news service that delivers to him, every morning, the five key stories of the day and any major developments in 20 companies he has a particular interest in. What’s John to do?

Logically, John should choose the news service if over a year it saves him more than 10 hours in finding the information he needs. Time spent versus time saved is a core cost-benefit model for content. Expect to see it employed a lot more in the future.

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