As you are no doubt aware, the newspaper industry, and the publishing industry more broadly, are scratching their collective heads about how to transition their business models to the web. How to avoid offline pounds evaporating into online pennies. How to charge for content.
And, if you’ve ever had anything to do with measurement and analytics, you’ll also know how hard it is to measure marketing effectiveness across multiple channels in order to optimise the mix and maximise effectiveness of spend.
But don’t fear. I have two ideas….
OK, so these are only two ideas. And mostly I’m putting them out here now so, if and when they happen, I can claim credit for thinking of them. For all I know (and I don’t) they might already be underway.
But I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to shoot down my ideas, there are plenty of holes in them!
Idea No. 1 – Google solves the paid content problem.
So what’s the real problem with people paying (or not paying) for content online? Is it really that everyone out there has a strong moral code within them that says ‘information wants to be free’ and it is somehow unethical and evil to charge for content online? I don’t think so.
Is it that people resent *the amount* being charged, or being proposed? Or, at least, that the amount isn’t worth paying versus searching around for a free good-enough equivalent? Partly this, I’d say.
But, I contend, the real problem is *how to pay*. The physical and cognitive effort in filling in card details, or doing the whole premium SMS thing by phone, or setting up some account, just isn’t worth it. We can’t be bothered.
The real reason I grab a freesheet newspaper on my way to the train each evening rather than pay, say, for The Evening Standard, isn’t that I’m not prepared to pay. It’s that I’m always running late for the train and I can’t be bothered to find my wallet, find the change, and do that whole paying thing when there’s a much, much easier alternative which is good enough. Don’t make me think.
Am I really alone or isn’t the real barrier to paying for content online the actual act of paying?
So here’s an alternative, lazy, easy way it might work.
Let’s assume that Google Checkout gains enough ground, or enough of us have Adwords accounts, that Google not only dominates the search space, but also has a billing platform that is near universal. Far from impossible. PayPal are closest at the moment but they don’t own the beginning of the customer journey (search, for most).
So now, when you do a search, in the natural search results (possibly even the paid ones) there is some visual language (an icon, a link colour, a rollover etc.) to tell you that if you click on the link then you will be charged, and how much.
And let’s assume that amount is very little (5p?) and that you don’t even get charged until you accrue £10 worth of clicks (that would be 200 clicks). So click away and forget about it.
I think we could soon get used to seeing these clicks as almost ‘free’ in the same way that few of us really think of the cost of phone calls at a per-call level? Maybe there would be bundle / package offers in any case – “all you can click for £10 a month”.
I might search on a news story and actually choose my favourite newspaper brand from the list of results, let’s say The Guardian, and happily pay to view a ‘quality’ article on the topic. I might pay for some others too; I’d probably look at free ones as well. If you look at newspaper unique user figures it is already abundantly clear that readers are not loyal to the brands. They are promiscuous. They snack.
The Guardian site got 27,324,309 unique users in April 2009. Let’s say 40% came from Google (I reckon it must be higher), that would be around 10million a month. Let’s say 20% of those paid 5p each that would £100k a month, or £1.2m a year. And perhaps Google splits that 50:50 with the publisher? £600k is the equivalent of, what, 60 million page views monetised at £10 CPM for ads.
Might this be a way for publishers to monetise content and for Google to make *even more* money, including monetising its natural search results?
Idea No. 2 – Tesco solves the multi-channel marketing problem.
It doesn’t have to be Tesco. Choose the (probably retail) company in your country with the largest customer base, a loyalty card program (or really good customer data another way) and who sells through multiple channels.
And let’s assume that IP (as in Internet Protocol) becomes the media distribution mechanism of the future, for all media including TV, which I’m pretty certain it will be.
All Tesco need to do now is give away a free set top box (PVR etc.) to all its 8 million customers, do a deal with some content owners / companies (forget broadcasters, they’ll have died out of course because you don’t ‘broadcast’ anything over IP and no-one is loyal to channel brands, only content), which might include the BBC (here also an answer to the license fee problem should it come to this?).
Admittedly Sky is a bit of challenger in this scenario but this is perhaps the one potential Sky Killer (apart from Google which is an Everyone Killer of course) – what you already get from Sky except free, or *much* cheaper, because Tesco can afford to subsidise this all because of an increased share of wallet. They own much of our wallets already: groceries, clothes, financial services, telecoms, broadband, entertainment on demand….
Imagine they provided your phone(s) which worked over IP, internet connectivity, TV (via set top box / PVR) as well as having all that customer insight via all their sales channels, and loyalty card data, in a unified customer view. It’s a marketer’s dream.
Last time I checked Sky sells this customer data / insight – data on what households do what on their platform. So why not cut them out of this monopoly? You’ve got to be big to try it, but the likes of Tesco could do it.
Imagine the levels of multi-channel marketing insight they would have. No longer would we need to worry about what the impact of TV advertising on search on local store sales might be; about the impact of direct marketing combined with local radio ads to drive e-commerce within a postcode district; about the impact of online display advertising in increasing response to a TV ad….
One small problem: Tesco probably wouldn’t tell us the answers of course. They tend to keep these things to themselves.
Big retailers getting into the set top box / converged media space? What do you think?
Photo credit: shuttermonkey via Flickr.