This Column Half Off!: Adventures in Monetizing Content

Here’s something for my English major compatriots to ponder: Why is it that on a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” costs $4.95, “Moby Dick” goes for $4.95, and “The Great Gatsby” is priced at a whopping $9.60? Who decided that the tale of the mannered early 19th century British is worth only as much as an insomnia-curing lesson in cetology? And why are both Austen’s and Melville’s works worth far less than Fitzgerald’s account of Jay and Daisy’s excessive exploits?

Now, if I’ve lost everyone who used to doze off in literature class, I’ll fine-tune the question: How does one decide the price of content? If the question is at all vexing, consider a new application called Total-e Content.

Developed by Framingham, MA, based TeleKnowledge, Total-e Content helps content owners, aggregators, and distributors monetize digital content. In other words, it sets up a sophisticated system that lets you charge for every golden word, picture, or streaming video on your Web site.

According to the sales literature, Total-e Content can monetize any form of static, downloadable, or streaming digital content delivered on any platform, including music, video, online news and information, live event broadcasts, online games, and education programs. Unlike some earlier applications, Total-e Content can manage a rather complex fee structure, including subscriptions, pay per stream, downloads, promotional campaigns, and discounted trial periods. It will even support multi-currency transactions for all those overseas fans of your wonderful content (can you hear the euros ka-chinking in the coffer?). And it will manage refunds for when — or if — a dissatisfied user decides the content isn’t that astounding after all.

Says the company’s marketing vice president Steve Vickers, “The world of free lunches is gone. The trend is towards companies getting revenue for content.” According to Vickers, TeleKnowledge is pursuing large organizations that want to set up systems similar to content providers such as The Wall Street Journal Online, Hoover’s, and, as well as organizations selling products such as RealNetworks‘s streaming subscriptions. He says the question for most potential clients is no longer whether “we monetize our content, but how to do it more effectively.”

“We’re working with organizations that want to go way beyond just a flat subscription billing setup. Our program has a robust billing function that can help an organization set pricing through a series of drop-down menu boxes,” says Vickers enthusiastically. “The platform has a huge number of different types of pricing options already enabled within the core software and allows for many different options.”

But for all its impressive features and marketing, Total-e Content won’t advise on how to price a site’s content. “We believe that our clients should understand their business model better than we do. The benefit of our system is that it enables numerous different pricing and promotional programs to be offered to different individual customers or groups of customers, so that the client can test multiple options. The situation is ideal when they are not sure how the new business model will develop,” Vickers demurs.

Hmm. And so, I’m left with my original quandary. We now know monetizing content is as easy as contacting the folks at TeleKnowledge, but how much is that content on the Web site worth?

Most likely, the majority of companies will base pricing decisions on the “going rate.” So, if The Wall Street Journal Online charges $59 per year for a subscription, I have no doubt that The Podunk Tribune will attempt to sell its wares for a similar fee.

For all these hopeful content purveyors, I have just one word of caution: value. Check the value of the content you offer. Survey potential users. Conduct a trial study or two. And, most important, be as self-critical as possible. Ask yourself, “Would I really pay for this content? And how much would I pay?” Be brutal. This is not a time for puffed-up pride.

Perhaps the question of putting a value to content is as elusive as weighing the worth of Melville versus Austen (I choose Austen, but, again, that’s just me and not the vast universe of readers out there). However, when you find the answer, it’s good to know there’s an application to help you implement your pricing plan.

Just be careful what you charge for. That’s my two cents, if it’s worth that much.

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