How to make money when no one wants to pay for what you do

People want to buy shoes and toys and electronics, but one thing most people don’t want to buy is information. Unless information is unique in some way (uniquely good in the case of something like the New York Times, which has made a paywall work, or uniquely available in the case of some very local news sites), people will migrate to wherever it is free. So monetizing online information has become increasingly tricky.

 So companies have come up with several ways to try to make money off of interactive sites.

The first, for people who want to learn things, is the paywall model. This isn’t really new. It’s the same subscription model that print news and magazines have used for years. This only really succeeds if your content is, in some way, unique. Often, this means that you are hyperlocal or that you have a deep expertise in a niche content area. Preferably this locality or users of this unique content also have the financial resources to make a subscription plausible. 

The second model, for people who want to do things, is the freemium model. In this model, which you can see in companies like Buffer, Skype and Hootsuite, a basic level of service is free, and this is what most people will use. However, a more advanced level with increased functionality is also available for a price. Those who pay the price pay for the service for everyone. This can work well if you a) have a quality product and b) there is a pool of users who will need the increased functionality.

The third model, for all kinds of people, is the advertising model. This is similar to the funding model for mass communication that has been around for all of recent history. Companies who deliver content sell ads to other companies. Users see the ads when they access the content. If you are the delivering company, a very functional site with relevant content is key to getting users to visit the site and to your getting paid. Newer is the targeted advertising model. One of the attributes of interactive media is that creators can get reliable information about the people who use news or information. Where they come from. Where else they have been. What they do on the site. Imagine you are a TV network, and you have someone who visit your site to watch streaming episodes of say Big Bang Theory. When that same user looks at stories on your news site, you know that they like Big Bang, and you can serve them an ad for a Bazinga! T-shirt. By using tracking, you serve more relevant ads that may get more people to buy things, and you win. If your tracking shows that this user always clicks on stories about auto racing, you can also have his page load with any racing stories he hasn’t clicked on. Every time he clicks, he goes to a new page and sees different ads and you win.

If you enjoy the articles on Sturg Says, I’d love to hear about it. Find me on Twitter as @drsturg. 

The Changing Content Model and Interactive Media

The first thing to keep in mind is that people have instrumental needs for their media use. This makes sense, if you think about it…they have a reason for making the effort to use the media. There are standard news values  – things like timeliness and proximity. These are part of the instrumental need for information. What happens when we move into interactive media? Well, we look at three different needs.

People want to FIND things

The first is that people want to find things in real life. I might want to find a restaurant to eat at, or a place to get my oil changed or a new suitcase. So there are some things that will make a site more or less useful for me to find things. With a restaurant, I may prefer one that is close to where I am located now, or one that is open at the time when I search, for example. A site that can let me tell these things easily, I’m going to like.

People want to LEARN things

The second is that same informational need we would think of when we are looking at traditional mass media. The difference is that traditional media are PUSH media. The communicator decides the message and then sends it to the viewer/user/reader. Interactive media are a mix of PUSH and PULL media. So your news site can tell me that Tony Abbott is the prime minister of Australia in a story, pushing the information, or you can search for it, pulling the information out of a database. So satisfying users means pushing things people want and making pulling as intuitive as possible.

People want to DO things

Finally, people want to do tasks online. A lot of these tasks are social. Sharing information with a friend, for example. Information might be “Here’s a cute photo of a grumpy cat” or “My coffee was too hot this morning. First world problems.” One other task that is increasingly moving online is that people want to buy things.

People DON’T want to pay for information

They want to buy shoes and toys and electronics, but one thing most people don’t want to buy is information. Unless information is unique in some way (uniquely good in the case of something like the New York Times, which has made a paywall work, or uniquely available in the case of some very local news sites that also use a paywall), people will migrate to wherever it is free. So monetizing online information has become increasingly tricky.


My next few posts will talk about making content work in this new world.

These are my thoughts: Here’s why you shouldn’t steal them

Sometimes in student writing, you can find words and ideas that aren’t the students’ own. This isn’t really a surprise. You can find plenty of examples of plagiarism in the professional world, and even some of those students’ teachers have been accused of misappropriating the words of others.

I think there are two kinds of mistakes that lead to plagiarism – omission and commission (ideas I am borrowing from both legal argument and religious studies).

In this case, omission is when you just aren’t careful to keep records of where your ideas come from. When you put the ideas together in a piece, you just don’t remember where you got that idea so you never give the credit.

Commission is when you deliberately don’t provide credit, often to make it seem like you have done more work than you have. Many times, search result listings will show these acts of commission. Just search for “How do I (insert task here)” and often the results will show exactly the same text appearing on multiple pages.

Here’s the thing. Copying the ideas of others is bad for three reasons.

It can often be illegal. Even if you don’t get caught right away, it remains illegal into the future, so it is always a threat to your credibility.

It makes you look stupid and unethical. When someone is looking to hire you in the future, you can be sure they will do a thorough examination of your work that is available to the public. If you are creating things to prove expertise in a field so you can work in it, your future coworkers are already experts and know where ideas come from. If you copy, that’s an easy reason to reject you.

It misses an opportunity to win support. As Dale Carnegie points out, people like others who find them interesting. Flatter people with good ideas by citing them, and they will like you more, which can be a real asset in life.

Why you don’t want a large amount of people

I’ve been grading writing assignments this week, and have seen the phrase “a large amount of people” many times. No. No. Please, no.

I can’t draw at all, so I’ve engaged the help of some clip art for this.

Here is a tree:


If I want to increment trees (have more of them) they are a discrete thing, so I need to have a larger NUMBER of them.

Tree graphicTree graphicTree graphic

If I try to have a larger AMOUNT of trees, this happens:

Tree with several partial treesTree with several partial trees

Pretty horrible, isn’t it? Imagine this was people.

Maybe I don’t want 3 trees. Do I want LESS trees?

Partial tree

Uh, no. Sorry. Mr. Tree!

I want FEWER of these discrete objects.

Tree graphicTree graphic

There. That’s better

Because, I wouldn’t want less people, either.

So remember, unless you are writing a horror movie script, a greater number or fewer people. Save the more or less for things like money, flour and other stuff you can’t count out one by one.

Once again, grammar saves lives.