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How Free Content Equals Big Money

Recently, I read Danny Sullivan’s brilliant post about how NY Times is trying to create paywall, where visitors will be limited to 5 article views per day. NY Times tried many times in the past where they prevented all free views of the content, but it resulted in a miserable failure. This is probably what will happen with this latest attempt.

The problem the NY Times has and that many newspapers have is they don’t understand the value of online content. They come from a real world perspective. If they can’t hold it or touch it, it isn’t real. I still get calls from local newspapers offering free subscriptions to their papers and they are baffled by the fact that I always turn them down. They say, “but it’s free” and I said, “I get my news online and its free too, I don’t need more paper to recycle.” So let’s look at the real problem how do you convince companies that online visitors are valuable. Personally, as a web marketing guy I see the online visitor as far more valuable then the offline reader for these reasons:

1) online visitors give you metrics…offline it is hard to track. You know exactly what you viewers like and don’t like. Imagine you could pay your writers accordingly. Drive visitors or else. You know everything about your users too and can target ads to better cater to their needs meaning higher ROI for your advertisers. You can give actual click reports so advertisers can actually see the value in advertising.

2) online articles have an unlimited run because stories never die…in fact the more stories you have the more growth there should be. Look at eHow that is there whole business model..more pages = more ads. Offline old papers don’t get read they get tossed.

3) Print is dead for a reason…people want information fast. Printing a newspaper means time. You must gather the information, edit, layout the print etc. By that time the story is already out online and has been discussed in every conceived form. Targeting content for online readers is fast and you save on printing costs. By levering a stable of good writers means providing an authoritative voice that readers need when they sort out what to believe online.

4) Online your can engage your viewers and get real feedback from them. This type of feedback is almost impossible to get accurately in the offline world. How did the last headline do? Was my editorial on the mark? This feedback is incredibly valuable because by listening to it you can not only maintain readership but you know what your audience wants to hear and in some cases what they don’t.

So when will the newspapers finally embrace on content with open arms, probably when all their advertisers tell them they are switching to online ads.

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