Putting a Price on Your Content

January 4, 2013 Neil Ingalls

The recurrent mantra of “content is king” continues to dominate the discussion of internet marketing. Content therefore has value, but that value has been monetized in a number of different ways. As the landscape of the internet and new media changes, marketers must adapt to the evolving marketplace in which websites monetize their content.

There have been many expansions and contractions in the media world over the last two decades. The rise of cable news and the internet has altered the way that many people consume the news today. Magazines like Newsweek have decided to end their print editions and transfer online for a subscription fee. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. launched an iPad only new source, “The Daily”, which failed in less than two years. They could not secure enough subscriptions to pay their staff and overhead costs.

The latest addition to the news paid subscription is the blogger Andrew Sullivan. He decided to place a pay wall between his news stories and the “Read On” button for a minimum of $20 a year, subscribers can give more if they’d like. He will no longer be running any ads, and therefore will not be beholden to any corporate interests. In 24 hours he collected 1/3 of the estimated operating budget for a year, jaw-dropping results. News is not the only media type to foray into the varying internet subscription models. In December of 2011 Lewis C.K. sold an online only show for $5 (his live shows were up to $90 a ticket at the time), and he made over 1 million dollars in 12 days.

Most online media business models depend on advertisers to buy real estate on the web property. Websites make money not by selling anything to their visitors, but to advertisers that want to sell to the visitors. The adage of, “If you are not paying for it, you are the product" rings true in this situation. This creates a situation where the websites with the most visitors, and positive online metrics like monthly unique visitors and time on site, are factors in how much advertisers will pay to buy ad space on the site. This has led to some criticism of sites like the Huffington Post, Andrew Breitbart, and Matt Drudge because they generate sensationalist headlines, attracting users to the detriment of true journalism.

It can be argued that selling the actual content will lead to higher quality, devoid of bias created by corporate interests that provide the paychecks of other online properties. With that said, there is also a great risk with charging consumers for content that they are accustomed to receiving for free, as News Corp discovered with “The Daily.” Marketers need to be aware of this balance, and tread lightly before splashing ads everywhere on the page. The time that excessive display ads become passé may be coming soon.

As any other time of change, there will be winners and losers within the new ecosystem. For now Andrew Sullivan and Louis C.K are pushing forward with a decentralized, democratized, non ad biased future. It is to be seen either or not these models can achieve longevity and remain relevant among a sea of change and powerful advertising interests.

As marketers at the beginning of a new year, it is important that we take a step back and imagine where we will fit into this future, and where success can be had within these newly varied business models. Content providers and aggregators are adapting, so we must adapt. We need to understand the price of premium content and what the average advertising target (customer/ visitor) is willing to pay for it to avoid our advertisements. Understanding this dynamic could determine the trajectory of online advertising for many marketers, large and small.

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