The Web Content Marketing Paradox

There are essentially two models for making money online through content: advertising or paid subscriptions. On the one hand, content wants to be free. Look at the rise of services like Napster (circa 2000, not today’s Napster). Look at the extremely rapid rise of YouTube and the proliferation of many other video sites. Look at the proliferation of Bit Torrent sites, where copyrighted content is freely exchanged. Most news organizations offer a ton of online content, entirely for free.

These sites and services show that consumers, for the most part, don’t want to pay for content. That’s no surprise when you look at the history of media. Television, the dominant medium of the late 20th century was entirely free for years. Even if you look at cable television, which has enjoyed tremendous diffusion as a technology, is nearly free. Sure, you’re paying a monthly rate, but it’s affordable. You’re definitely not paying the millions in costs to produce high-end cable shows like the Sopranos or The Wire (or any of the shows from the other premium networks), you’re only paying a fraction of what the profits that come from ad revenues.

Consumers have been trained to this model, and they expect free–or next to free–content.

At the same time, consumers have become essentially inured to the advertising that subsidizes content. Advertising can have a big impact when it is fresh and exciting either in terms of its creative execution or its delivery (Google Ads anyone?). But that dazzle only lasts so long. As Seth Godin has been talking about the decline of interruption marketing since 2000, so this is really nothing new.

So, content marketers are faced with the paradox of needing to provide content that can be monetized with the fact that interruption marketing has pretty much lost its drive. I know, there are some marketers out there who insist that, under certain circumstances interruption–or the more favored term, disruption–still works. And to some degree they’re right.

But content marketing isn’t about disruption; it’s about providing valuable information. And perhaps that is where this paradox nets out. Develop content that provides real value, and your audience will pay you back. Not through subscriptions. Not by clicking on ads. But with their loyalty. Then, in collaboration with your audience, find a way to monetize creatively.

How? That’s the subject for many more posts to come.


  1. One Fine Jay

    I really like your post, and I had an awesome, lively discussion with you this morning, but seriously, Twitter really renders communication so ephemeral. Now I need to post about this comment, and then guess what? A discussion will pop up on Twitter and five minutes later it will be lost to the aether of people’s attentions.

  2. Daniel

    Thanks Jay! I enjoyed/am enjoying our twitter discussion. I’ll try to re-post it here later tonight.

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