The thing about the internet is that everyone uses it differently. It’s not just about different generations, or the so-called digital natives vs. digital immigrants. It’s the fact that the beauty of the Internet is it’s anything to everyone – we use its capabilities depending on our interests and our needs. With magazines, everyone gets pretty much the same experience, whether they read the whole thing or not. With websites and other digital media, it’s important to recognize that different readers will want different things.
So what does this mean when working on your site? For one thing, and perhaps most important, don’t assume that your readers access and use the web in the same way that you do. Just because you never use Facebook or think Twitter is stupid doesn’t mean that they do (and vice versa). Just because you never go on your computer in the evening doesn’t mean they don’t, and just because you have a smartphone and access websites on the go doesn’t mean they do. I’m quite happy reading long articles online, as are many other people, whereas a large group say they’ll never be comfortable reading anything lengthy onscreen. The internet audience is diversity defined.
On the other hand, don’t assume that your readers will magically have time that you don’t have. Adding a feature that’s time-consuming to register for and requires a steep learning curve to make use of? If it seems like more work than you’d ever put in, it’s not likely to become popular with your readers. Put yourself in their shoes as often as you can when planning new features – and survey as wide a focus group as possible, as ad hoc as it may be – and you’ll avoid wasting time on projects that go nowhere.
I’m a strong believer in linking karma. And I’m a strong believer in newsletters. Put the two together and you’ve got a great package – I subscribe to a number of newsletters (like the one I get from mediabistro.com) that are not much more than well-curated collections of links.
I’ve noticed a couple of similar models emerging in the Canadian media lately. Chatelaine’s Weekender newsletter linked out recently to an article in the New York Times. And the Globe and Mail’s latest Personal Finance Reader offered up a collection of relevant stories from around the web. (Side note, though, to all three of these sites – why is it so hard to find your newsletters? If you really want more subscribers, make them easier to find.)
Both newsletters, of course, also linked to their own sites. But by adding links out to stories they think their readers will find interesting, they’re extending their brands: not only do they create content for their readers, they’re presenting themselves as the experts in those content areas, giving their subscribers even more value. And you can make a lot more money off a newsletter subscriber than off a click.
It’s a good model. Why don’t you try it?
The debate is still on (and for good reason) about how the media can make money with their online properties. Readership is certainly there, but display advertising isn’t bringing in enough revenue and most readers are unwilling to pay to read articles online. The New York Times is said to be about to charge a monthly fee of $5 for access, but whether the strategy will work is questionable. (They might suck me in, though – I’ve become extremely addicted to their excellent health section.)
The Guardian recently spoke with Chris Anderson of Wired on his thoughts on monetizing media websites. His ideal model, they write, is that we shouldn’t charge for everything, but for those things that people are really willing to pay for: “It’s not about whether to charge but choosing carefully which specialised content people will pay for and developing additional premium services.” Golf Digest, for example, is considering starting a branded club that will charge for membership in exchange for services, discounts or other premiums.
The million-dollar question, of course, is what will people pay for? Figure that out, price the model well, and you may just bring in profit from your brand in excess of advertising, using the “free” content on the website as a lure.
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