You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything

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How does commentary affect the world around us?

Advertisers Have Entirely the Wrong Idea (Yet Again)

Publishers of websites are considering more intrusive advertising, such as video ads you can’t just click through. The thought is to make the internet more like TV: “It’s a similar type of user-interruption experience as a commercial in the middle of a TV show,” says one brilliant ad exec. This won’t work, however, because the internet is NOT TV–and that’s what’s so great about it. The interactivity, the potential for feedback: people go online to engage, they go to TV to veg out. Ads that can’t be avoided online will annoy users; I, personally, might consciously choose not to buy a product that messes up my internet experience with intrusive ads.

The only reason publishers are freaking out about online advertising is that the internet has finally given them the technology to actually know what their ads accomplish. The answer? Very little. It’s impossible to measure how many people see a billboard or print ad. (It’s possible to estimate how many people travel a highway or read a paper, but it’s difficult to say how many of those notice or care about ads. Even Google’s new billboards are somewhat odd: how can you click a link on a billboard?) But when you have metrics for your website, it’s painfully easy to see how few people click through. And not only can we not look at ads online, we can also block them altogether in many cases. There’s a reason that browsers have pop-up blockers and Firefox has adblock: people don’t want to see ads.

When will corporations learn this? When will the time-honored “advertising budgets” be spent in better ways, perhaps by providing special deals to loyal customers, referral fees for people who bring their friends over, and other innovative techniques? Maybe a site’s biggest commenter gets a 5% discount (hello, massive commentary!). Maybe someone who wins a contest based on site content gets a prize. But the ad execs’ thought process is just wrong. “If you want to move share over from TV, which is still the biggest ad marketplace, you better look like TV more than a newspaper,” another exec commented. I don’t mean to say that advertising can’t ever work. But I do think it’s dangerous to think about the web as TV OR a newspaper. It’s an entirely different medium and needs to be treated as such by advertisers, content creators, and users alike. Otherwise it will never realize its great potential.

Filed under: Business Models, Content

It’s the (e)Content, Stupid

“I’m not in the business of selling books. I sell writing,” Irvine Welsh told the Times online, adding, “The screen might not even be with us in 20 years’ time–but writing will.” Welsh’s comment gets at the heart of a common conundrum–“what will become of books?”–and reveals its irrelevance. Books were never the point; they were just the most convenient vehicle for content for a long, long time. Perhaps they still are. But technology has created infinitely more platforms for content, for customizable ways to display writing (not books) on screens, phones, and other devices that didn’t exist just a few years ago. We don’t need books, necessarily—we don’t even need writing, if you get right down to it. Just so happens that we do need information, and the written word has traditionally been one of the most efficient ways to communicate it.

The decreased need for books, or at least the greater feasibility of alternatives to books, has sent the publishing industry into a panic. What will be the next book? How can we make money from ebooks? Latching on to the notion of books, even ebooks, may be a mistake, as it allows publishers to attempt to translate a traditional book publishing business model to online content.

I recently ran across a random post on a random blog that makes an interesting argument about music, one I think that may translate to books (italic emphasis original; bold emphasis added):

…there is no new business model for music. It doesn’t matter whether you fight the new technology or embrace it or try to appease it; there’s no new business model for music because there was never really an old business model for music, either. There was a business model for record companies once, maybe, and there are new ones for celebrity persona-management and soundtrack-placement or something, but these are not business models for music. They are not models for how any particular person who makes music can afford to not hold other employment, and they are not models for how any particular person who loves music can express that love as effective economic catalyst or responsive reward. There is no economic system for maximizing expressive opportunity or artistic greatness. There are not even really business systems for expressive subsistence or artistic sufficiency. Mostly we have music because we are human, and one of the things humans do is sing. Periodically we hold lotteries you enter by singing, like we sometimes hold lotteries you enter by playing basketball or by lying to people en masse. But these are not businesses. Or, more accurately, they are precisely businesses, but businesses for selling dreams, and for selling tools for dreaming, and for selling memorabilia from having once dreamed.

Likewise, I think, it can be argued that there is no business model for content: there many be business models for different types of content, in different situations, but none that works for all types of content, in all cases. Perhaps this means publishers should specialize in business content, or sports content, or literary content; this type of specialization is often the case, anyway. But publishers can no longer just focus on turning existing books into ebooks, or signing up authors and turning their work into PDFs. It’s now a requirement to consider the best format for presenting information: a traditional book? An ebook? A YouTube video? Not every topic calls for 250 pages of print, even if that’s what best fits signature requirements.

But it’s not only the content, e or otherwise. It’s also our responses to it, which technology has also opened up many more forums for: emails, blog comments, YouTube video responses, replies on Twitter. Publishers must consider not only how best they can best utilize content, but also how they can best open it up for discussion.

Filed under: Business Models, Content

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August 2017
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