Content can do one of three things for consumers. It can:
- Edify; or
- Be Essential.
For example: People Magazine entertains. The Chicago Tribune edifies. Some believe Platt’s Oil News is essential.
Entertaining content is the most broadly desired; everybody likes it, since many of us want to know Brangelina’s latest. But entertaining content has has the least “stickiness” since none of us really need to know. If you move, forget to renew your subscription or cut back on your budget, People is the first to go.
Edifying content makes people feel better about themselves because they eat their “news vegetables.” You’re glad to know more about the latest city hall battle, but chances are it doesn’t directly affect you, so if you don’t read it, your life hasn’t really changed. This defines just about every metro daily newspaper in the United States.
Essential content is just that: Consumers believe that the information will change their lives or businesses in a meaningful way. Some people may believe weekly counts of oil wells drilled is essential, for some it may be a detailed list of things they can do with their kids in the city next weekend. Typically, essential content is very useful for a small group, but useless for the population at large.
Monetizing content heavily depends on how it engages people. Small groups of readers will pay high amounts and endure terrible interfaces if they believe the content is essential. Large groups of people will consume entertaining information, but only if the experience is relatively frictionless and at a low cost. Platt’s Oil News costs thousands of dollars a year, serving a few thousand people that make million-dollar decisions based on the information it provides. People Magazine is virtually free (if you play the subscription offers right!) serving tens of millions of people every day who view their website and display ads looking to learn about Bragelina’s latest hair style.
In the middle of all this, edifying content providers are in a terrible squeeze position. Without information essential to their readers’ daily life and a large enough audience to scale up advertising, you can’t get enough subscription revenue or attract enough readers to for a big enough advertising base. This is the fate of the metro daily newspaper. The Washington Post and The New York Times may prove the exception, because they have national readership.
Suburban weeklies and small-town dailies help connect their communities, where there isn’t any other good way to learn the news, so they remain essential. But in the biggest markets, news consumers are bombarded with local news, and thus don’t need their metro dailies. And so neither do advertisers.