Thursday, January 29, 2004

Can your Blog Posts become a Valued Commodity?

Many mainstream websites are feeling the pinch from a depressed advertising market, and are looking to diversify their revenue streams. Many sites are turning to the paid access model. It has been often predicted that blogs could turn to such a model as a means of making money.

This doesn't work for Blogs.

The Blog format is not yet a mainstream publishing model, and is mostly used a means to create regularly updated content with minimum effort, thus enabling the blog author to spend more time thinking about what they write than on page layouts. You could argue that blogs are like fanzines or college magazines, and despite their less polished look and feel (in comparison to mainstream magazines) do appeal to an audience and that audience is willing to pay for this. However, the web has provided for many a relatively cost-free method of publishing; fanzines do have production costs. This lowering of production costs has also developed in web users an expectancy that content is mostly free on the web. If one blog charges for access, it is likely there are other similar blogs that could be read for free instead. As blogs often comment about each other, or are simply news clipping services, it is also very likely that another blogger will have paid for access to the premium blog and you can read about the content there instead.

Another reason why blogs cannot charge for access is due to the relatively small audiences. The general rule of thumb for publishers taking their websites from free access to paid access is that, at best, only 10% of their current audience will subscribe to the premium site. At least 90% of the audience will be lost, and this is for sites that have a well known brand and often have an offline presence too.

It would also be difficult to attract new subscribers if the site does not have a strong brand or an offline presence. You will also have your referrals from search engines cut down to zero as they cannot index pages hidden behind a subscription wall. Blogs benefit a lot from their high visibility on search results.

That said, one can argue that if a blog has a faithful readership then there is a clear demand for the content. I cannot disagree but for the reasons above there seems to be no business sense in making blogs subscription sites only. What you can do is use the "free sample" model. Each of your posts are not going to be extensive essays, and are mostly just small insights into a blogger's thinking. If you go into a supermarket and try a small sample of cheese at the deli counter, you will likely buy a larger piece, rather than just going for a free sample each time you visit the store. So you have the bait to hook your readers into your blog and appreciate where you come from. Why not offer them a more in-depth view of what you blog about? Marketing Wonk currently offers in-depth reports on various aspects of web marketing, from their free access blog. Seth Godin often writes about the content of his books without giving too much away - wanna find out more? Buy his book. This is the commodity that can be sold - however in order to get to this stage you need to have been publishing quality content to a niche audience that cannot find these reports elsewhere for free. Alternatively existing Authors and Analysts can use the blog as a means to create a dialog with existing customers and spread the word to new customers.


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