Everything but the Squeal

The financial problems at Salon, APBNews and other content sites should force you to ask yourself an important question.

That is, are you getting the most from all your revenue streams?

Content sites have gotten in financial trouble in part because they rely most heavily on a single revenue stream advertising. With customer-acquisition costs being what they are, this equation can’t possibly work.

An obvious secondary revenue stream is commerce, but most content sites go about this in a desultory manner. They either try to become shopkeepers themselves, they place their merchandise in someone else’s hands, or they make horrible choices on their own.

The keys to a successful affiliate relationship are context and an honest recommendation. Small sites often do a better job at this than large sites because small-site managers take a proprietary interest in the process of selecting and recommending merchandise. If you want to know the secrets of doing this right, click here.

These aren’t the only potential revenue streams for a content site. Subscription revenue is a great add-on, but you need to understand two rules about this. First, the data you sell must be of very high value. Second, understand it will be purchased by just a small percentage of your audience. Dr. Ralph Wilson does this as well as anyone.

Syndication is another great revenue stream. So far only large content providers have taken this route, and only large syndicates have appeared in the marketplace. Neither syndicates nor sites have properly explored this area.

Everyone knows about email, and it comes in many forms. You can do paid as well as free email products. They can be written by your own writers or, as in the case of moderated lists, in collaboration with readers. The process of building community around your content is so profitable on so many levels it’s amazing it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

This year ClickZ has begun exploiting two more revenue streams, conferencing and print publishing. These businesses are something like running an airline, in that once you make your “nut” (fixed costs), everything else is gravy, so there’s risk. But conferences and books can be done by all kinds of sites, not just business sites.

This leads me to yet another underused revenue stream turning your talent into stars. Many sites don’t think their talent should be treated this way, but it does more than build loyalty. Broadcasters have learned that exploiting their talent drives their own profits as well as the incomes of their best people. The web has more in common with broadcasting than it knows.

When you add these opportunities, you see you can create a lot more jobs at a good content site than at a regular publisher. Most of those jobs, unlike the jobs at a publisher, can also drive revenue, not just costs. That’s why I love this business because you can use and reuse your expertise in so many ways. It’s what hog butchers referred to when they said they used everything from the pig but the squeal. (And if you’re using my stuff, critics will say you’re using the squeal, too.)

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