Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Content Is Free, But Nothing Else Is

I've been pondering this post from Mark Cahill at Vario Creative for a while now. Mark writes about the "cut and paste web," which is one term for a big idea: increasingly, content is not tied to the content creator or distributor's web site.

RSS feeds are a great example (and one that Mark talks about in his post). If (like me) you read all your blogs in something like Google Reader, you're essentially pulling content from one site (say, this one) and viewing it on another (Google's). The problem is that most of the ways that we make money from content require a user to come to our site to see it.

As I read Mark's post I thought about a Houston Interactive Marketing Association breakfast I went to earlier in the year where this same concept came up in a discussion of interactive ad strategies. The old approach was to design ads that people will click to visit the advertiser's site. According to the panelists at that meeting, this is no longer the case; increasingly the content lives in the ad itself and users never actually have to visit another web site: for example, if you're an insurance company, your ad could offer a free quote and include a form right there in the site to request it. If you're using creative tactics like interactive games or videos, they can be right in the ad also. So your successful ad might not drive any traffic to your own site.

There's a very good reason this is happening: users like it. Users are more likely to interact with an ad on their local newspaper's site if they aren't going to be whisked off somewhere else, when their goal when they sat down at the computer was to read the news on the site they started at. RSS aggregators make it possible to keep up with a ton of blogs and news feeds - sorry folks, if I had to visit all those sites, it just wouldn't happen.

So here's the big question: how do advertisers, marketers, ad sellers, and content owners make all of this work? In a world where your content is going to be consumed all over the place, how do you make money from it? Because content may want to be free, but there's no sign of that happening to the rent or the electric bill.


Mark Cahill said...

Now I'm even more concerned...

I'm going through the thought process of developing ideas of what one of my content sites wants to be moving forward. Our model is utterly broken already, with banner ads that don't sell well, Adsense revenue that is dropping like a stone, and traffic stats that have tailed off dramatically. We don't have a huge warchest to go out and hire every luminary in our industry to write articles for the site. Instead I am coming back to providing more tools that are of value to our readership, and more ways in which they can create and share their own content. Think of a niche del.icio.us implementation with some mapping mashups thrown in.

We used to be an online magazine. We were shocked in starting to look at it, that we are no longer...

Thanks for the post - great timing for me, excellent thoughts, and I appreciate the link

Mary Schmidt said...

Part of our challenge as marketers is translating/transforming from the old style "attention" marketing to "intention" marketing. The old "hey look at me" that yells at every passerby (real and virtual) advertising is largely ignored - unless it's really creative and then creative doesn't necessarily translate into business...And new studies have shown that sex really doesn't sell. Oh dear. What are the beer companies gonna do?

On the other hand, people who come looking for your product or services are already primed to buy - they intend to do so. If we can answer their questions, engage their interest, we're halfway there.

As for advertising on web sites, that's not part of my biz model (and ol' crank that I am, I almost always ignore any ads anyway.) However, I think changing "ads" to be easier, more interactive, and useful in and of themselves could be the way to go. I also like the idea of a company sponsoring a site, page...television show. Could be better for everyone.