Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Advertising-Based Publishing

In a previous post, I was exploring new trends in electronic publishing (April 30, 2008). One of the key points was that traditional subscription and publishing revenues are shifting away from subscription fees towards "free" information supported by advertising revenues.

"One well known revenue shift is towards advertising revenues. This is an old model, of course. Newspapers have been at it forever, and online search engines for years. But more recently, we're seeing a larger shift of revenue away from subscription sales for information resources and towards advertising."
I had this reinforced recently when I realized that even traditional reference book publishers such as dictionaries and encyclopedias were increasingly garnering revenue from advertising rather than from subscription sales. Wow -- that was an eye-opener. It makes sense though -- if I'm looking for an informative article on "Chocolate", am I going to pay for access to Britannica or would I go to the free Wikipedia? I guess the answer (for me at least) depends on how authoritative my answer needs to be. But in general, I would go to the free site. And I suspect I'm not alone. So how is a traditional reference publisher to compete in the age of Wiki-whatever? Product quality alone isn't enough. It has to be free too. Enter advertising.

On the surface of it, it seems easy to generate advertising revenues. Especially if your area of publishing is targeted - in fact, the more specialized your content, the more valuable you are to advertisers? I'm not sure that this is true, but it sure looks that way. Virtually anyone can establish a Google AdSense account and tie it into their content publishing operation (as I've done to this blog). But who's actually making money at this? That's the hard question.

It always comes back to the same basic principal - supply and demand. I loosely translate the supply side to "timely, quality content". Timely doesn't necessarily mean frequent, it means "frequent enough". And demand is partly driven by the content and partly by your sales/marketing operation. Demand is partly the number of visitors to your web site and partly by the number of visitors who pay attention to your advertising. So, we need quality content and we need to advertise its presence.

These sound like the principals as those by which we've been driven forever.