Commentary

Compensate Citizen Publishers Like People, Not Web Sites

It's happening already. Waiters at New York City restaurants are starting to introduce themselves to customers by saying, "I'm a blogger--I'm just doing this while I wait for my big break."

While blogging is showing profit potential for consultants prospecting for new business and savvy marketers creating customer dialogues, the vast majority of citizen publishers aren't making enough from their efforts to even pay for their Internet connection. For most, their sole hope for compensation comes through Google AdSense. Contextual advertising is fine as a supplement to other programs, especially as a means of painlessly monetizing remnant or network inventory. But the content on many blogs is worth a lot more than remnant inventory. Citizen publishers who rely on AdSense and similar programs end up grossly undercompensated.

The delta between what the rich content and dialogues in the blogosphere are worth, and what price they actually command, exists because citizen publishers are being compensated like Web sites, not like people. Instead of a CPM or CPC model that assumes that the relationship between an audience and, for example, Busymom.net is the same as that audience and iVillage (where there is clearly some overlap), citizen publishers should valuate their work instead like the writers they are.

I propose then, the following compensation model for citizen publishers:

The value of citizen publisher content to advertisers or sponsors should be no less than the value of freelance writing contributions to publishers. The industry standard for freelance writing is $1 per word. Blogs, then, should be valued, on average, at $1 per word.

The word count contributing to this value is to include comments on the site. Blogs richer in conversation are considered valuable by all measures, and the writers who stimulate and sustain that conversation should likewise be compensated.

Better writers--regardless of word count--will ultimately grow bigger audiences. Bigger audiences comment more and lift word count. But instead of valuating the mere size of the audience (like a CPM model does), this model valuates based on the level of audience engagement--a metric advertisers are increasingly paying attention to. Every compensation model creates new incentives. This one creates the incentive to drive deeper conversations and richer exchanges-- benefiting the publisher, the sponsor, and the conversation's participants (the group advertisers commonly refer to as "the audience").

But to whom am I making this proposal?

Surely not to advertisers. Why should they offer to pay $1 per word, when they can use AdWords to have a presence all across the blogosphere for an effective 10 cents/CPM?

Certainly not to citizen publishers themselves--they're writers, not media salespeople.

Obviously not to the ad networks working to monetize citizen publishing--they've already found a model that has gained massive acceptance by both advertisers and publishers. What's to fix?

So there is no shortage of obstacles impeding this proposal. At present, we have a nascent model that satisfies citizen publishers' urge to create and converse, affords advertisers a nearly free and painless way to incorporate this content into existing media strategies, and happily drives incremental revenue for ad networks who developed these products for different media entirely.

But, on the other hand, this movement is sending tremors through the very foundation of the media industry, contributing in no small way to significant marketing budget re-allocation, major agency re-organizations, and a resurgence of media company consolidation. There is too much waste in the current system, and its improvement-- for all parties involved--is inevitable.

What then is the best way to make this proposal?

To advertisers: If Chevy Chase Bank in Maryland can justify $7 million to build the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, is subsidizing DCFoodies.com at $7K per month or BethesdaRookie.com at $3K per month--to reach the same audience with much higher engagement--really a stretch?

To citizen publishers: Earning your first 13 cents through AdSense is a thrill you've long since gotten over. Take down your contextual advertising; reduce supply and hold out for an increase in demand.

To ad networks: You're leaving money on the table. This content you're trying to monetize is worth far more than what you're charging advertisers. Find a new way to position this media; vaunt these publishers as people and this content as the conversations they are; and create a new media model for an entirely new media dynamic. It will be worth it.

Someone--a progressive marketer, a foresighted publisher, a well-capitalized entrepreneur--is going to upset this apple cart. When it happens, citizen publishers won't just be competing with established publishers for audience attention and engagement; real media dollars will be at stake.

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