Two ideas to solve two problems – paid content and multi-channel marketingAs 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

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

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

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

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

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

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.