You can’t sell content

January 28, 2010

Many of us in the magazine world think we’re in the business of selling content. But I’m becoming more and more of the opinion that content can’t be monetized in and of itself, no matter what the media platform. What we’re selling instead is:

• Pure information – which is a function being taken over by the internet. No one can compete with the web in terms of fast delivery of facts. (And say what you will about accuracy, mass media gets things wrong a lot of the time too.)

• The experience – this is something novels provide as well as most magazines. An escape from everyday life and a way to immerse yourself in a subject/theme/place.

• A physical product – again, books and magazines. They fill shelves and coffee tables and can be carried on planes and subway trains. They can be passed on to others. They are tangible and make nice gifts.

• Shared experience – this is watercooler talk. People don’t just watch movies and TV shows for the sake of entertainment, but because their friends are too. Speaking as someone who doesn’t watch a lot of TV, it can be quite alienating to be completely oblivious of shared references.

• Viewpoints – when it comes to major issues, whether it’s national politics or the problems affecting their industry, people rely on media (and, increasingly, social media and blogs) to help them reach an opinion.

• Identity – consumers coalesce around ideas that give them a sense of belonging. They choose TV shows, movies, books and magazines not just because they’re interested in them, but also because they help them form a sense of identity.

Everyone in the media world is agonizing about how to sell online content. But is that really the question? Do we really sell content in print at all? Or do we need to figure out a way to sell consumers these other things instead?

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