The best business model for media today combines high quality content production, expert filtering of content from other sources and community loyalty. However, hybrid models are complicated to administer, particularly for dinosaurs with insitutional ways of working more suited to the days of fewer channels and higher barriers of entry to the media market. Thus instead of adapting to the idea of a new networked economy some organisations and individuals are trying to wrestle the internet into a shape that suits their old revenue models.
Mike Butcher over at Techcrunch reports on a meeting that took place between Microsoft/Bing and some big newspapers in Europe, regarding ACAP (the Automated Content Access Protocol), which aims to give publishers control over how search engines access their content.
“This is the more granular version of the robots.txt protocol which has been proposed by publishers to enable them to have a more sophisticated response to search engine crawlers…. “Some call it the “DRM of newspaper web sites”. That said some 1,600 traditional publishers have signed up to using ACAP.”
Basically ACAP will assist publishers who want to charge a premium for their content and control if and how search engines can index it. This development seems to be a lose-lose for all involved:
- The publisher: The publisher is restricting the ability for people online to learn about the existence of their content. This will likely impact an important stage of the ‘user flow’ I describe below, awareness.
- The user: The user of the web will not know that a website has some content she wants. This user may actually have been willing to pay for the content, if they only knew it were out there. Or, the user may have been inclined to read the content for free, but could have been persuaded towards paying in some way, given the understanding that doing so will be of benefit to the publisher.
- The search engine: By producing results manipulated by ‘big media’ the chances are web users will simply go elsewhere. If I notice 5 out of 10 search results I get from Bing are taking me to content I cannot read in full, or I learn it is not even indexing a lot of the content I want, I doubt it will be very long before I give up on it. As pointed out by a commenter below Mike’s article, with only 3.25% (Sept 2009) of market share, this is an even bigger risk for Microsoft’s Bing than it would be for Google, who thankfully are not currently being so evil.
Consider the users
So how can a publisher producing quality content, but seeing falling ad-revenue, move towards win-win?
They could do much worse than consider the users.
Note, I said users (plural). Where once we considered how ‘the user‘ interacts with our website, now we must consider how ‘the users‘ interact with us, our website, and eachother.
What is different about today’s media is the proliferation of many-to-many interaction opportunities. A capacity to feedback on a product / interest area, to have a conversation around it, and to influence it, is what people now expect and want. Users may not utilise the ability a website provides them to comment (see the 90-9-1 rule), but having that line open encourages trust in the content, product or service on offer.
Media organisations need sustainable business models that work with current market conditions: and part of that means being social.
Turning community loyalty into revenue
In my post on Community user flow: attending to every stage I looked at how social websites can succeed by paying attention to every potential step of a user’s relationship with them: awareness, visit, repeat visit, membership and active membership (participant).
Further to this a website needs to consider how to generate revenue, and hows its efforts to tend to user flow can translate into revenue.
If the organisation is not-for-profit, this might be as simple as generating funding via sponsorship, and proving to its funders that its online publishing activities are attracting a sufficient audience. However, most websites will need to adopt a model which draws revenue from many sources, including individual purchases or donations. In this case attending to the user flow and building community loyalty can generate revenue from many sources:
In conclusion, publishers spending their time looking into ACAP might well be wise to consider how the portion of their revenue that comes from premium content might be protected. However, they need to view this revenue alongside other potential sources of income. They also need to be cognizant that making money in one way can cut off another, in this case impacting on traffic and loyalty, resulting in an overall net loss of revenue.