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.
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