I'm of the mind that effort expended in a fight against the Web's natural state will always be wasted. As such, this model accepts that Web content doesn't need a container, piracy only matters when boats and water are involved, and pay cannot compete with free.
Now, all this talk of acceptance is great from an ease-of-life perspective, but a massive question looms over the proceedings: If this model turns its back on everything that worked before, how does it make money?
- Build value-driven relationships with online audiences.
- Use knowledge gleaned from these audiences to develop targeted, naturally scarce products (i.e. "stuff people pay for") that directly address audience wants and needs.
- Market these products back to the same audiences.
- Convert small percentages (2-5 percent) of these audiences into paying customers.
- Concurrently, take advantage of secondary advertising and sponsorship opportunities.
- Repeat. A lot.
The "stuff people pay for" component is tricky because it requires development of products the audience wants, not products you want the audience to want. That's a kludgy phrase, but a key distinction. Many content companies are reeling because executives can't get past their own desires. If they shifted to an audience-centric perspective, they might make money producing products that actually serve their target markets.
That's enough editorializing. Let's look at the types of products audiences are comfortable purchasing.
Webcasts, Screencasts, Online Courses, Tutorials
This is the toughest product category in the model because consumers generally expect Web content to be free. Overcoming this expectation requires a deep commitment to value, built-in justifications for purchase, and a sense on the part of the consumer that they're buying access to an experience or an opportunity. A few examples:
- Build products around pain points, not outlines. Example: An online offering aimed at burgeoning small business owners should skip the introductory material and instead dive into the core issues. What licenses do I need? Where do I get health insurance? What are the tax implications? Again, the point is to give the audience what it needs, not what you want it to need.
- Create one-to-one learning opportunities. Example: Give consumers who attend a webcast an exclusive opportunity to purchase 60 minutes of access to the webcast's subject-matter expert. This lets consumers address their unique issues with someone who can help them, guide them, or solve their problem.
- Booksquare University
- Mediabistro Courses and Seminars
- PeepCode Screencasts
- Common Craft
In-Person Workshops, Conferences, Events, Meetups
Events are risky because they require up-front funding for travel, expenses, venue and catering. As such, each potential event must be justified: Does it serve the target audience? Is the location convenient for the target audience? Are the venue and food costs prohibitive? Is this a one-off or will the event repeat? Does the event have any secondary benefits, such as expanding into new markets, increasing brand awareness, or offering unique opportunities to work with particular subject-matter experts?
These questions will eliminate most proposed events from contention, but that's a good thing. A great event creates a physical manifestation of your audience's energy, and that's something the other for-pay products in this model can never deliver. You don't want to spoil the opportunity by delivering half-hearted affairs.
In a less touchy-feely sense, events are worth pursuing because they include three built-in elements:
- People generally pay to attend events, so your audience won't balk when you charge for registration.
- An event that offers true value quickly differentiates itself from lackluster competitors (of which there are plenty).
- Good events create momentum. Subsequent events are easier to sell if your first event delivers.
Books, Videos, Subscriptions
Books and videos each require investments in time and resources, and they alway take far longer than first estimated, but their upside is built-in: people are used to paying for long-form material in these formats.
Web-based subscriptions are not as well established as one-off purchases, but they offer three intriguing value propositions for customers:
- There's the lure of having everything at your fingertips.
- You don't have to store anything, and your content is backed up.
- Tagging and metadata allow for material to be chunked and resorted infinite ways. This creates opportunities for customization and curation.
Under this model, subscriptions are an aggregate of custom content created specifically for the subscription service and archived material from the other for-pay product categories (books, videos, in-person event coverage, research).
Consultation opportunities will depend on the target audience. If the audience is in need of one-on-one analysis or problem solving, the in-house editorial group can offer direct consulting services or recruit third-party consultants. In many cases, soft forms of consultation via the organization's other product offerings (courses, books, events) will make formal consultation unnecessary.
The rigorous analysis in formal research reports creates enormous value for the audience. Consumers can purchase reports as one-offs or as part of a subscription service. Custom reports are an option, but the in-house editorial group needs to maintain clear ethical boundaries.