Creating Must-Have Content

In a column he penned for last summer, INT Media Group * chairman and CEO Alan Meckler discussed the current shift from the advertising-supported “free” online publishing model to the paid-subscription “fee”-based business model. In the article, he wrote:

The total paid model is doomed to failure unless you have “Bloombergesque” proprietary content. The information you have is solid, but nobody “must have it,” which is the condition you create once you put a fee on the service. “Like to have content” is what many of us possess, but “must have content”‘ is a different level, and few content providers possess this asset… Premium paid services are a great strategy when they are combined with an overall free site. We at are having great success with such a strategy, and I advise all of you to study what we are doing.

Today, I’m going to take Alan up on his offer. Let’s wander through the pages of the network and see how it makes its money.

Let’s start right here. Take a look around the page. Chances are, the ads you see are promoting one of the following:




  • INT Media Group premium content — one of the many special reports readers must pay for



  • A media kit for one of the INT Media Group properties



  • A company sponsoring ClickZ content (like this column)


Back in the go-go days when Ann Handley and I owned ClickZ, we ran as many as eight ad units per page (including text). Then, all were paid sponsors. When we launched ClickZ’s print and conference divisions in 1999, we were forced to accept secondary ad positions to paying sponsors.

That was then. And this is now.

The heyday is long gone. A publisher looking to build a profitable, enduring online business model could learn a few things from studying the Meckler strategy.

At its foundation is a simple premise: Build a quality audience and tightly focus on content highly relevant to it.

The audience must be definable, measurable, and desirable. It must have significant information needs, or “pain,” that you’re uniquely qualified to address. It must have demonstrable ability to pay for products or services to solve its problems. As a whole, it must have sufficient bulk and mass to which these solutions can be marketed.

Back to It sure has built its audience. In fact, has a number of constituencies it’s assembled over the years: Internet technology specialists, online marketers, Web developers, Internet technology specialists, Linux programmers and developers, Internet service providers (ISPs), investors, and wireless aficionados, among others.

All these groups represent knowledgeable people struggling to stay up to speed in their respective disciplines. They’re not afraid to spend a few bucks to do so. They’ve got the pain, the size, and the money.

Although hasn’t abandoned the ad-supported model, it’s augmenting that revenue with other offerings. Essentially, the Web sites exist as free marketing channels for their other businesses. It can advertise to large, highly targeted audiences for free. Consider the marketing expenses of selling reports and conferences. What emerges is not a bad strategy.

Keep the above-mentioned audiences in mind as you wander through the various channels and sites that make up the network. When you see ads for the ClickZ Email Marketing Strategies event, ISP Business Expo, Search Engine Strategies, or Enterprise Wireless Forum, remember these events didn’t spring out of nowhere. INT Media has a pretty fair idea of the size and stature of the audiences it has at hand.

An area that could be a mother lode in future sales is premium content. Currently, paid-subscription models are in place for Search EngineWatch,, and Alert-IPO! Look over their offerings. A whole bunch more could have some paid premium content without losing audience.

INT Media is, of course, only one example of the shift from free to fee. In the coming months, I’ll explore a number of other online businesses to see how they’ve shifted from exclusive reliance on advertising for revenues to a balanced approach based on paid subscriptions, premium content, events, and sometimes even advertising.

As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions. Please email me with either.

See you next time!

* INT Media Group owns, ClickZ’s parent company. purchased ClickZ from Andy Bourland and his partner, Ann Handley. Andy Bourland no longer has any financial interest in the company. (Return to top.)

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