Gather Shares Ad Dollars with Contributors

For Web publishers, consumer generated media means consumer generated revenue. Now a young social networking site driven by CGM is sharing the advertiser-funded wealth. Gather.com, a site that’s become a stomping ground for an older and perhaps wiser group than other sites in the social networking space, has offered its first payout to its contributors.

The Gather Earnings program gives cash or points towards gift cards or charity to people who post to the site. Points are based on the amount of traffic their content drives, how often it’s recommended by others, how many users bookmark or “subscribe” to it, and how many new users they invite.

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg has accumulated 3,500 points she can turn into cash, donate to charity organizations, or put towards gift cards for merchandise from Barnes and Noble, UncommonGoods, Sunburst Vacations and other retailers. The interior designer, aspiring e-book publisher and self-described “Gatherholic” plans on converting her points into a charity donation. She spends a few hours each morning perusing what she calls “the intelligent site” and writing her own posts about design, business and personal tales.

“It’s given me the ability to retool my skills in writing,” she added.

Site members post about topics like environmental sustainability, windsurfing, documentary film and fiction writing, and are eligible to collect cash payments if they earn more than 50 points per month.

“More than 100 top earners are collecting over $100 per month,” said Gather.com co-founder and CEO Tom Gerace, noting that some are earning up to $1,000 each month. When planning the revenue sharing system, Gerace expected the payments to “add up to beer money” for members. Now he thinks some Gather.com users are becoming like Ebay “PowerSellers,” suggesting they can make a living through their Gather gigs.

The publisher sells AdWords-type text ads through an auction system and targets them on content and member registration data that are matched to advertiser-chosen keywords and target audience segments. Advertisers include Citibank and Sherman’s Travel.

Gerace explained that the six-month-old site’s audience is “an engaged, informed demographic.” Gather.com has acquired about 30,000 registered users, 73 percent of whom have a college education, 72 percent of whom are between 30 and 60 years of age, and 80 percent of whom have a household income above $50,000, according to a recent survey conducted by the publisher.

With American Public Media, the outfit behind Minnesota Public Radio programs like “A Prairie Home Companion,” as an investor, it makes sense that the site has drawn a crowd with NPR-style sensibilities. However, there is the occasional group focused on topics that seem more at home on MySpace, like the one “dedicated to sharing photos, taken by members, of hot men from around the world.”

In addition to user generated content, the site features content from publisher partners including the American Heritage Dictionary and Peterson Field Guides. Well-known writers such as “Strange Piece of Paradise” Author Terri Jentz join in on chats with the Gather.com crowd. The site’s most popular group, Food Talk, is affiliated with American Public Media’s culinary show, “The Splendid Table.”

Gerace explained his goal is to flip the traditional publishing model by which a select group of writers are paid a per-word rate, and instead reward anybody and everybody who delivers quality content. Still, insisted Sullivan Stemberg, “The points mean nothing. We’re there because we love the site; we love the community.”

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