Thursday, January 26, 2006

Where's the money

The problems encountered by the publishing industry in making money from online content is an issue or PR as well.

Content has, in the end, to be paid for. In addition, we find that 'content' is not the only thing people seek on the Internet. AOL with all the content available from its Time Warner acquisition, found that its subscribers sought more. The subscription approach does not seen to be optimum access to the Internet by consumers. The amount of access via mobile and and Wifi is growing very rapidly.

Perhaps it is helpful to look further back and see how content has acquired value in other paradigms.

Looked at from an historical perspective we can go back 6000 years to see the use and development of of written content. Then, there were shopping lists, inventories and, later, letters. In addition, wall posters provided information and the big propaganda included great pictures as well as script carved into stone.

Regular publications have been created and distributed by governments for millennia, including Acta Diurna, a listing of events ordered by Julius Caesar in ancient Rome.

The world's oldest newspaper in print, Post- och inrikes tidningar is the publications used for official announcements. It has been published for 360 years, starting at 1645 under the rule of Queen Kristina as a government voice to tackle rumour and present an official Swedish view of national and international events. A similar publication, The London Gazette began publication in 1665. These publications have in common a monopoly. They are the place for 'official' announcements and are regarded as having legal authority.

The evolution of newspapers is no more than a technological phenomenon that allowed mass production using the printing press.

Monetising print was relatively simple. Broadly, content was published at a cost to the writer. Then it was paid for by the publisher, and then readers were asked to buy copies to pay for the cost of production and then came advertising.

It can be argued that the media we use describes us. We call people who find most of their news on-line 'geeks' and people who read 'serious' newspapers are 'bookish'. Television users are sometimes described as 'couch potatoes.'

Marshall McLuhan (1967) argued that the medium is the message; what's important is not, for instance, what people watch on television but rather that they watch it. Given their symbolic dependency, changes in both social systems and self-systems have resulted. This applies to the Internet too. But as we can see here, the Internet opens up a wide range of communications channels. Such channels can have wide acceptance or can be niche.

This gives us a social model and four economic models.

In the economic model, the writer, publisher pays, a sponsor pays and the advertiser pays. And there were, and are, hybrids. This model survived from print, to radio and thence to television but was nuanced on the way.

The presence of advertising on web sites works quite well although it was hard for the advertising industry to learn that the idea of pushing messages to people who use the internet to pull information, was counterproductive. The only way that such activity really works is by using the Internet's ability to communicate to millions very cheaply as in the case of email marketing (spam) which is like old fashioned leafleteering. The difference in the new model is that the people seek information and then seek advertisements/information (or the means to buy). This is not the same as paying for editorial content/intellectual property.

In addition, among publishers there is a wide debate covering aspects of the publishing model from academic to Art to News and among freelance communities.

But there are models where people are prepared to support content. Here are some examples of the way that online content is being used. Journalists are paid because they are popular and this can also lead to a subscription model. This is a self defeating model because readers do not see the work and cannot judge whether the content is worth the subscription.

Citizen journalism is recognised as providing usable content which can lead to sponsorship.

Contributors can, of course, go direct to the market and attract advertisers. Which applies to podcasts as well as Blogs and other editorial on-line. Streamed on-line video has a future too and combines some traditional television content production with citizen journalism.

The social model frames the readership/audience within a communication channel. Given that there are some 25 communications channels in daily use this offers both choice to the consumer and smaller, ever more niche audiences. The use of these devices can be very specific to environments. For example lifestyles may use communication channels in the following way: breakfast television; iPod travel to work; PC at work; wifi over lunch and so forth.

In addition within each channel, the consumer is looking for specific information/stimulus. This is much more specific than typical RSS feeds. The feed of news from aggregators and publishers tends to be limited to broad categories. Most people want news that is specific to their need.

There is then the issue of how long it takes to acquire information. Time poor, cash rich people will pay over the odds for gratification. Content online can provide this but when not available, people go to extraordinary lengths to find it. Frustration abounds and even the best search engines are not all that people want them to be. "Mobile phone users are increasingly relying on their handsets for up-to-the-minute news and information when they are on the move," said Tim Faircliff, general manager of Reuters Digital Media UK.

This gives us a clue as to where the money is:

  • Publishing monopolies 'official' information (company information, government information, facts and information that is essential to 'survive' on the.

  • Published content can be made available via subscription services.

  • With attractive content, its creators can go direct and collect money from click through advertisement such as Google Adsence.

  • Contributions offered through a sponsor/third party with an established readership (or publishing brand) and be paid for click through advertising.

  • Added value content to an intellectual property or product and be paid a proportion of its sale price (e.g. Wiki help files and added content, interactive bill board).

  • Copy/broadcast content can be attached to hardware and software (X-box, Interactive billboard etc)

  • Create content that is very specific to the user.

  • Create content which is easily available to time poor, money rich users with time sensitive content.

  • Create content that aids actualisation of the user.

There are a lot of experiments looking for answers to monetising content.

The Telegraph has taken the plunge into the podosphere and launched a daily podcast offering selected articles from the newspaper. It claims to be the first UK newspaper to launch such a service.

The Hull Daily Mail newspaper introduced video reports into its online local news coverage this week just days after six of its print journalists underwent an intensive videojournalism bootcamp.

A different approach could be monetising the USP of the Internet which is interactivity and self actualisation motives.

Looking from a Maslow perspective.

Physiological needs

The first need for the body is to achieve homeostasis. This is obtained through the consumption of food, water and air. When some needs are unmet, a human's physiological needs take the highest priority. As a result of the prepotency of physiological needs, an individual will deprioritize all other desires and capacities. Physiological needs can control thoughts and behaviors, and can cause people to feel sickness, pain, and discomfort.

Maslow also places sexual activity (at its most basic) in this category, as well as bodily comfort, activity, exercise, etc.

If the constituency believes that the podcast is essential for them to get food, watter, air, sex, and bodily comfort, then it will have high value and they will pay for it – we see some evidence for this but it is not mainstream.

Safety needs

When the physiological needs are met, the need for safety will emerge. Safety and security ranks above all other desires; a properly-functioning society tends to provide security to its members. Sometimes the desire for safety outweighs the requirement to satisfy physiological needs completely.

Here is a better opportunity for on-line communicators. By including content that will make people physically safe, safe in their community or even safe in their job, there is an opportunity for monetisation.

Love/Belonging needs

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs are social. This involves emotionally-based relationships in general, such as friendship, sexual relationship, or having a family. Humans want to be accepted, and to belong to groups, whether it be clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. They need to feel loved (sexually and non-sexually) by others, and to be accepted by them. People also have a constant desire to feel needed.

We see in these needs greater opportunities for the online community. The friends reunited phenomena is writ large here and we see numbers of web dating sites, sex sites and blogs working in this arena and making money. The communities online are expressions of the need to be loved and to belong.

The online community is well embedded here and is making serious money at it too.

Esteem needs

There are two versions of esteem needs - the need for the respect of and recognition by others, and the need for self-respect.

Here we see the needs of the journalist writ large and so the podcaster or blogger has to work hard at creating, sustaining and developing reputation.

Being needs

Though the deficiency needs may be seen as "basic", and can be met and neutralized (i.e. they stop being motivators in one's life), self-actualization and transcendence are "being" or "growth needs" (also termed "B-needs"), i.e. they are enduring motivations or drivers of behaviour.


Self-actualization (a term originated by Kurt Goldstein) is the instinctual need of a human to make the most of their unique abilities. Maslow described it as follows:

Self Actualization is the intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately, of what the organism is. (Psychological Review, 1949)

A musician must make music, the artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation. (Motivation and Personality, 1954.)

Maslow writes the following of self-actualizing people:

  • They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.

  • They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions.

  • They are creative.

  • They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives.

  • They feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life.

  • They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.

  • They judge others without prejudice, in a way that can be termed objective.

Here the needs of the audience are quite complex. The content that is essential for people with these needs is news, stimuli, issues, a community interest and breadth and scope of information.


At the top of the triangle, self-trancendence is also sometimes referred to as spiritual needs.

Viktor Frankl expresses the relationship between self-actualization and self-transcendence clearly in Man's Search for Meaning. He writes:

The true meaning of life is to be found in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system.... Human experience is essentially self-transcendence rather than self-actualization. Self-actualization is not a possible aim at all, for the simple reason that the more a man would strive for it, the more he would miss it.... In other words, self-actualization cannot be attained if it is made an end in itself, but only as a side effect of self-transcendence. (p.175)

Maslow believes that we should study and cultivate peak experiences as a way of providing a route to achieve personal growth, integration, and fulfillment. Peak experiences are unifying, and ego-transcending, bringing a sense of purpose to the individual and a sense of integration. Individuals most likely to have peak experiences are self-actualized, mature, healthy, and self-fulfilled. All individuals are capable of peak experiences. Those who do not have them somehow depress or deny them.

Maslow originally found the occurrence of peak experiences in individuals who were self-actualized, but later found that peak experiences happened to non-actualizers as well but not as often. In his The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (New York, 1971) he writes:

I have recently found it more and more useful to differentiate between two kinds of self-actualizing people, those who were clearly healthy, but with little or no experiences of transcendence, and those in whom transcendent experiencing was important and even central … It is unfortunate that I can no longer be theoretically neat at this level. I find not only self-actualizing persons who transcend, but also nonhealthy people, non-self-actualizers who have important transcendent experiences. It seems to me that I have found some degree of transcendence in many people other than self-actualizing ones as I have defined this term …

Ken Wilber, theorist and integral psychologist who was highly influenced by Maslow, later clarified a peak experience as being a state that could occur at any stage of development and that "the way in which those states or realms are experienced and interpreted depends to some degree on the stage of development of the person having the peak experience." Wilber was in agreement with Maslow about the positive values of peak experiences saying, "In order for higher development to occur, those temporary states must become permanent traits." Wilber was, in his early career, a leader in Transpersonal psychology, a distinct school of psychology that is interested in studying human experiences which transcend the traditional boundaries of the ego.

Here we gain some insights into the real value of relationships. They are at their best when temporary states must become permanent traits. For example: When being of an online community is part of a regular cultural experience.

It is a state when public relations changes the cultural norms of a person and where the values involved transcend other inhibiting restrictions and a person is then only to willing to pay.

Picture: Adam Maslow