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Making Content Pay

I was asked to do a piece for this week's New Media Age which I thought it would be worth sticking up here. It combines some short responses to individual questions about ad targeting, content, ad-funded models and mobile (restricted length on some big subjects probably means it doesn't flow as it could but then I'm being picky).

It's probably worth mentioning that the common thread in this is that I do believe that there is a model for making content pay on the web – but it has something to do with how we define it, a lot to do with how we distribute it, and quite a bit to do with how people consume it. Which reminds me of that Clay Shirky quote about how: "Communication tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change: it has to have been round long enough that most of society is using it." Social tools are becoming ubiquitous, but they will become invisible. Here's the piece:

"The main way consumer expectations of content are changing is that the relationship is no longer one way.  People want to participate, to engage, to have their say, so there should be no barriers to interaction.

I think paying for content is probably a question of how rather than when.  People will pay for services, content and applications if they're sufficiently useful to them at the right moment in time.  But people are used to accessing content for free online so this requires a greater level of sophistication.  I'm not convinced we've got there yet.

Publishers should also take mobile very seriously.  We haven't reached a content tipping point yet, mainly due to the difficulty in combining brilliant applications with a seamless user experience.  The content isn't an important enough part of people's lives yet.  But it will be.

There are clearly a lot of models out there that are heavily ad-funded, but it's worth remembering that in tough time digital has the potential to deliver unprecedented value.  Companies with the right approach will recognise that a low cost of entry plus a ubiquity of free online tools and services can lead to greater experimentation and innovation.  Network effects can mean more opportunities to share and the quick spreading of new ideas.  Digital and social media give you the opportunity to interact with and engage your audience across multiple touchpoints, and get valuable insights as you go.

One of the biggest challenges of introducing greater targeting in digital advertising is achieving the right balance between contextual, audience-driven and behavioural techniques.  Interesting things are happening in all three of these areas which will inevitably lead to better targeted, more useful and relevant advertising, but every brief is different and no one size fits all".

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