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.