A Web 2.0 business model for publishers

All the talk of Web 2.0 is fun and interesting, but what does it mean to Mr. Medium-sized Publisher?  Can it change my business?  Should I just wait to see how it all plays out before diving in?  How will I make money?

I think there's a model that is worth considering for any publisher, large or small, that will help them get into the game.  Every publisher has 2 primary assets: audience and content.  The more valuable of the two is the audience, so you have to be more careful with that piece.  But the content is something you can exploit in this new world in some interesting ways that shouldn't be too scary.

If you look at the core of your content, the thing that differentiates you from everyone else is the data you have on the things that you cover.  Columns should be used in a more blog-like environment to engage your audience.  News is probably more useful as a net for catching new fish.  The data that builds on the subjects that you cover over time, however, becomes something that the Web 2.0 world can use.

IDG, my former employer, has a very deep set of data on computers and software across its publications.  Primedia knows a ton about cars.  General interest newspapers know a lot about local businesses and local politics.  Publishers need to package the core items in those important and unique data sets into normalized and usable XML databases.  Hardware products.  Software products.  Cars.  Businesses.  Legislation.  Then attach the related content you have to that database.  

For example, include the links to the reviews of the iPod Nano and links to the news stories and blog posts that mention the iPod Nano with the database entry containing all the specs for that product.  The specs are the core data.  The URLs are related data.  The product name is the key for that entry in the database.  You once thought the feature story or the comprehensive review was your most important content item.  No longer.  The name of the object you're covering is what you need to build this database around.

When you have your data organized, post it publicly.  Post it as XML.  Let people take it.  Let everyone take it...even some competitors.  And use the Creative Commons Noncommercial Attribution ShareAlike license to protect yourself.  Each item will contain some core data that, yes, people will post on their web sites, and attached with each item will be a bunch of URLs pointing to your domain that, yes, people will also include on their web sites.  You will be able to maintain the page view model for a few more years by transitioning to Web 2.0 this way.

BBC has been making some progress in this direction with their Backstage effort.  It's amazing to see how many variations republishers come up with for using the longitude and latitude data that is carried with the items in the BBC XML feeds.  Follow their lead.

Publishers think of their readers and their advertisers as 2 different customer sets.  There's a new one you need to serve - republishers.  People who use your content and republish it (tools providers, bloggers, bigger publishers, etc.) may become useful sources of revenue.  I see two obvious revenue models:

  • Package your ads with your content.  Advertisers can reach wider audiences, probably highly engaged readers.  If you're short on page view inventory, then this is a great way to open up more inventory to drop in more ad impressions.
  • Share revenue earned from use of your content.  If you are making money from the ads then kick some of that back to your republishers.  If they are making money from having your content, then have them kick some cash back to you.

Everyone wins here.  Your content gets out there further along with your brand.  Your readers are getting your content how they want it.  You win new readers you couldn't reach before.  Your advertisers are able to serve more ads to more targeted readers.  Republishers are incentivized to work with you because you are helping them make money.  You might even be squeezing out your competition as your content becomes more useful than theirs.  

There are countless examples of businesses that have been outdone by competitors with less impressive products but who found better means of distribution or established better relationships with customers.  Think of Web 2.0 as a way to reach new customers, build new distribution channels, and find new revenue streams.  It's not scary.  It's fun.

Tags:  models, bbc, idg, web2


You're, like, giving away secrets
by Rex Hammock on Thu 08 Sep 2005 09:39 PM EDT rexblog

Great stuff, Matt.


TrackBack URL:

A Web.2 business plan for publishers
Weblog:  rexblog
Excerpt:  A Web.2 business plan for publishers: Formerly of IDG and now of Yahoo, Matt McAlister presents a provocative outline for a Web 2.0 business model for traditional publishers.
Posted:  Thu Sep 08 22:07:42 EDT 2005
Grokking BBC Online and Web 2.0 media business models
Weblog:  Read/Write Web
Excerpt:  James MacAonghus from Aqute is writing a series of posts analysing BBC Online, which I highly recommend you check out. In Part 1 James wrote that BBC's online reach has been steadily growing. In Part 2 he drills down into...
Posted:  Sat Sep 10 07:35:59 EDT 2005
Web 2.0:
Weblog:  Thinking about the Future
Excerpt:  So says Matt McAlister in an interesting post about taking a Web 2.0 approach to being a publisher (in the traditional sense). We clearly need T-shirts. Technorati Tags: Web 2.0
Posted:  Sun Sep 11 17:13:24 EDT 2005
Portals see lead conversions between 4% and 6%
Weblog:  Matt McAlister
Excerpt:  I can hear publishers celebrating today as research shows that their lead generation programs look healthy still compared to the big kids:"For the month of January, AOL Search generated the best conversion rate at business-to consumer e-commerce sites...
Posted:  Thu Feb 16 17:14:56 EST 2006
A Web 2.0 business model for publishers