David Coursey, in “Paving the Way for Premium Content,” his 6/11/09 Tech Inciter, PCWorld blog post, leads off with “Paid content is the best hope of saving “the media” as we know it.” I disagree with him on that score because the media as we know it is disappearing faster than an ice cream cone in August and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The rest of his article is deadly accurate.
The content aggregators don’t want to hear it, but David’s first point is free and low cost content supported by ad revenue is “absolutely broken.” I’d call it a train wreck in the making. Forget profits, content aggregators like Helium are struggling just to stay alive. Maybe their ad supported model made sense a couple years ago, but they’ve put their train on the wrong track and it’s probably too late to switch.
The quality of content that can be supported by ad revenue simply isnt’ there and the signal to noise ratio of ads to real content drowns out even that content. Coursey says that for premium content to take hold, the free stuff needs to go away. I think it will. When the ad revenue model fails and the content aggregators crash through the wall into the street, free content will disappear for lack of patrons.
Coursey’s second point, that quality costs money, that somebody has to pay for it if they want it puts today’s writers in a much better position. The train wreck is a wide open opportunity for writers who understand what’s going on in the publishing industry. Gordon Crovitz of The Wall Street Journal has seen the writing on the wall and will be offering the WSJ version of a paid subscription in the fall. (see my Newsstand of the Future post for details)
When publishers controlled the presses and distribution, they called the shots. They decided who would write their content and what people would read. The Internet democratizes both. The writers who create content and the readers who want that content are in control now. Self-publishing used to be a “snicker behind the hands” avenue for losers. No more.
Every writer with a computer and an Internet connection has the tools he or she needs to publish. Every reader with a computer and an Internet connection has access to everything. As Chris Anderson puts it in The Long Tail, there are two imperatives to a thriving Long Tail business: “1) Make everything available, and 2) Help me find it.”
All we need to do then as writers is create premium content and help readers find it. They’ll pay for it.