From our grass-is-always-greener file: Those of us who like to partake of our news online, especially that content produced by incumbent newspaper companies, we will find we are no longer able to freely drink all you want/eat all you can (pick your metaphor) as most have instituted a pay wall. Newspaper pay walls are the poster child for freemium services in which an online news reader can consume a fixed number of online articles for free before some form of subscription is required. I won’t go into the intricacies of pay wall technology but suffice to say 1) nearly every newspaper either has one or 2) will soon be implementing one.
So, who was the first publisher bold enough to ask readers to pay for what was previously free? Well, the same publisher who thumbed its nose at Apple’s request for 30% of the proceeds for the privilege of being in the iTunes Newsstand—the Financial Times.
“Where we’ve found inspiration is Internet retail, not publishing,” said FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw. “We’re becoming a direct Internet retailer and we have to have expertise to do that. When you do that with publishing, it looks like a different business.”
Internet retailing seems like a very different business than publishing. In the measurable digital age, though, the parallels are striking. It’s not in what you are selling — books, electronics, or news stories — it’s what you know about your customers, their habits and wants.
If publishers can learn from retailers, what can retailers learn from publishers? Why are consumers willing to pay for online news from their local paper? The answer is a quality. Quality in a content experience is one of those gooey terms that mean different things to different people but the net result is some level of value the consumer gets from an article, news story, opinion, feature or even video. And while the results of this evolving trend are a work in progress, thanks to changes in the way Google executes searches, quality is becoming the new black for media. Demand Media, the best known of the content farms, has ditched its “we’ll publish anything” mantra to being extremely selective over the stories that it distributes though multiple channels. Google’s algorithm changes (named Project Penguin) which focus on content quality based on more than a dozen factors, will have an impact that goes well beyond the world of media.
Retailers who have learned the value of adding reviews and comments from around the web as part of an ecommerce strategy must be on guard for new search-driven measures of quality. A good review as part of the retail experience can help drive sales, a bad review can hurt, but being able to validate the source of the review or comment will be a must have in a competitive world of knowledgeable online consumers. As with many content strategies, such tasks can be handled internally as part of a web workflow strategy or managed by a third-party firm who has is equipped to handle the vetting process at scale in near-real time.
Some say the adage “content is king” is making a comeback. More likely, the new and improved slogan will be “Great content is king.”