Dec 09 2006

Can an online brand support gated or average content?

Published by at 12:34 pm under internet,Online marketing

I had an interesting conversation at a holiday party the other evening with a gentleman who works as an editorial director of a Web site of an extremely reputable and globally recognized organization. Like countless other sites, his was also experiencing a complete redesign and strategy overhaul.

Similar to many companies, he explained that they were trying to build out its current archive of content to make it more accessible, as well as develop a stable of new contributors in that site’s particular focus. This is refreshing, as I believe that any Web site that wants to build readership and compete in today’s free content atmosphere online, but only attempts to mirror or too closely reflect a brand’s printed product is doomed.

Knowing this organization’s brand, I have no qualms about saying that won’t have any problem getting new quality material from reputable people. However, I was a little disappointed to hear that they still were hoping to gate (make readers pay for) some of that old and new content fairly quickly, once the organization determined which of it was most popular, or which of it they think online readership would pay for.

As a heavy Web user and an online professional, the thought of gated content frustrates me on many levels. Two of the obvious being: I don’t want to pay for it and will go somewhere else to find it free, and I don’t want to give you my personal information in this time of identity theft just to read or listen to something.

My new friend was fairly confident that online readership would want to pay for the site’s invaluable offerings–thus allowing it to make money off the organization’s brand. When I questioned him about it, the best he could offer was a shrug and say that his online team was “hopeful that it would work.”

I’ve seen sites that are rather successful with this strategy to this point in time, such as the Wall Street Journal, but I really can’t help wondering–as the diversity and sheer volume of free global Internet offerings grows–if this model will die out within the next three to five years. Why do some sites and businesses really believe that their brand will allow them to be successful with gated content, or even average offerings? Is it ego? Are they afraid to relinquish control? Do they fear letting what they have to offer hang out in the wind to be successful on its own (and then carry that success to woo advertisers, which by the way, are funneling more and more money to the Internet).

I suppose a person could argue, how valuable and important is the content–necessitating the readers need to pay for something they absolutely must get. But with the plethora of places online offering the same or similar information, that model is really in danger.

From what I have seen and experienced, the trend is shifting to where readers come for free, quality and relevant information. Despite a brand’s reputation, if they don’t offer those three components, the Internet community is going to pass them by.

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