Shopping at the Content Store

It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m waiting for my Webvan delivery. You don’t know how much I love these guys. (They were formerly known as HomeGrocer, but I can live with the changeover.) After a session of simple pointing and clicking the night before, I receive my groceries at my door the next day. The produce is fresh, the trucks are clean, and the delivery people are so courteous they slip on paper booties so as not to muss my 10-year-old carpet (as if they don’t notice the bleach stain the size of Antarctica).

Yes, I love my dot-com grocer so much, I nearly wept when I read this week’s Wall Street Journal report that Webvan’s financial tires are running on some very thin tread. In fact, the Journal predicts that Webvan cannot survive the thin margins, operational costs, and spotty success in gaining loyal customers. Yes, it appears that the days of having dairy — and everything else from soup to nuts — delivered to my door are numbered. My wonderful Webvan is just another example of a great dot-com idea in for a struggle.

So, how does a good dot-com idea stay afloat? Talk to Andy Moore of DotContent. His operations aren’t nearly the size of Webvan’s, but he’s also taken on a big e-challenge. This man from Maine is trying to build a sustainable model for original content.

Andy’s idea is a little different from the prepackaged content providers. He’s offering the columns of talented yet lesser-known writers for Web publication. “I’m looking for columnists with life, verve, and chutzpah to write and syndicate,” says Moore. “DotContent is for sites that recognize a value and benefit to content beyond weather and stock reports.”

So far, DotContent offers a small but eclectic mix of authors, including a financial wizard, a travel writer, a theme-park expert (always head left at the entrance because the crowds subconsciously turn right, he says), and a tie-dye-wearing “Beer Guy.” Moore envisions his columns residing on a number of sites. For example, the theme-park maven could suit a family-oriented site or a site focusing on travel. He says he doesn’t just push the pieces on clients but, rather, spends considerable time working with clients to determine the best possible fit.

Moore’s model is to charge about $100 to $120 per column, depending on frequency. The piece resides on the client’s site. Writers receive a royalty for every appearance of their column on a paying client’s Web site.

Of course, that’s the idea. The problem is that DotContent is still looking for content purchasers. As one writer told me, it’s a great concept, but he senses the demand for fresh copy may have hit an all-time low this year.

Moore is far more sanguine. “Eventually, quality content will prove to have a demonstrable return,” he says. “The smart ones will figure it out.”

And while Moore’s enterprise keeps percolating, consider Plastic, a site with a new content model just launched by Lee deBoer. Plastic has a different take on solving the content void. Editors start the discussion, and readers provide the commentary. Before you take a look at the site, be forewarned… although some of the discussion topics are interesting, they’re usually not solving the AIDS crisis or world hunger. As deBoer was quoted in an interview with @newyork.com, “Plastic has a defined subject matter — pop culture.” He also remarks that his model works because it’s not “front loaded” with full-time writers. (News flash: There are qualified freelance writers out there!)

Final note: Plastic refers to its content model as “Bottom-up.” Hmm…

And now, my Webvan order has arrived. I must say the contents are apropos. Look, a bottle of Chardonnay for those who work toward dispensing quality content. And yes, there’s also some bologna for those who are simply filling valuable Internet space with noise. Take your pick.

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