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Media companies large and small are desperately struggling to increase revenue and decrease their costs. At the How Do You Make Real Money on Digital Content? panel during DPAC in New York on Thursday, panelists suggested a few ways that publishers can increase their earnings.

Cutting the cost of creating content is one method that traditional journalists won't be excited to try out. But there's still a digital frontier that's holding the promise of digital revenues for many: mobile.

David Mason, SVP of AOL's content platform, says that the Wall Street Journal is the only media subscription he pays for today. Publishers right now are trying to find new ways to charge for their content.

But Mason says that publishers need to reevaluate the way they create that content. At AOL, they are trying to change the way journalism is created and distributed:

"It's all about the cost structure of creating the content. That's a fundamental component in terms of what's successful and what's not."

AOL is lowering its costs by paying writers less for their content. According to Mason:

"We have over 40,000 individuals in our network that are ready, willing, and able to create a video, a story, or a piture, with a significantly lower cost structure than if we did it in house."

According to Mark Weinberg, VP of programming & product strategy at Hearst, traditional publishers are making progress:

"It's clear the revolution is happening. Publishers are starting to head down the road of being more innovative, and creating digital content that works with well with the print product. They're extending into the digital world in an attractive way."

Most publishers have stopped pitting that their print and online products against each other. But that doesn't mean there aren't new digital issues to confront.

Ernie Cormier, CEO of Nexage puts it like this:

"The battle might be over in terms of the fight of digital versus print. But we'll see a similar tension between content being created for the standard internet versus moving to mobile."

That tension can be seen in the media already. Many traditional publishers who were slow to move online are jumping on mobile devices like the iPad. That's because they are hoping they can charge for content there.

Wired's iPhone app has been billed by many publishers as proof that consumers will pay for content on the iPad. According to Conde Nast CEO Charles Townsend, Wired's June issue has been downloaded for the ipad more than 90,000 times. At a price point of $4.99, that's not too shabby.

But not everyone is convinced that Wired's success with iPad early adopters will continue as other audience demographics purchase similar mobile producst. And some think the Wired app was overly expensive to purchase — and produce. Says Weinberg:

"Just because people bought it to see what it would do tells you nothing about how it will work in the future."

But that's not to say that the mobile frontier doesn't offer a lot of promise for charging for content. Cormier thinks Wired's app was too expensive, and overly engineered. Yet he says:

"We've gone from print to the internet. The next transition will be the transition to moibile."

Either way, publishers and technologists are experimenting and pushing forward in the space, which is unavoidable. As Mason put it:

"If you take the sit back and wait approach, so many people will be passing you by."

Meghan Keane

Published 24 June, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Ernie Cormier

Thanks for the coverage, but just to clarify: I didn't say that Wired's iPad app was too expensive, nor did I say it was over-engineered. The question I was responding to was do all publishers need to do iPad apps; my response was that it depends upon the brand and the overall mobile strategy.

Elaborating, I said that premium brands may want to do an iPad app for reasons of context (i.e. participating and benefiting from the buzz around iPad), or for commercial experimentation (i.e. it's a really powerful platform, with new means of content presentation and consumption). However, it's a very expensive platform to develop well for (and the market and press will crucify anyone who doesn't do it well), so in the finite budget world that we all live in, the iPad should be assessed in the broader context of total budget, especially with respect to other platforms that would give better reach at lower cost, etc.

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