Can We Stop Giving It Away

CanWest Media, which in B.C. owns Global TV, the Vancouver Sun, The Province, and Victoria Times Colonist, is teetering toward bankruptcy protection.

In the US, more than 6 large dailies are shuttering, in bankruptcy or close to it. Dozens of others are trying to figure out how to avoid their fate.

Yes, times are uber bad in the content industry.

We’ve talked before about how most publishing companies are, as one wag put it, on the “leading edge of the 19th century”. They can’t compete with an online world that gives away the same content as they try to charge for. In many cases, it’s their own content that’s killing them.

Obviously this makes for a bad business model that was only shored up by the sale of advertising around the content – the idea being that free content would attract traffic whose eyeballs could be sold to advertisers. Giving it away worked fine for most content providers until the economic crisis sent advertising plunging over a cliff.

So now those same content providers, including several right here in BC, are experimenting with new models to …uh…monetize content. The only thing stopping much of this experimentation is the lack of a micropayment system – other than iTunes – that can handle content. But that will change as soon as software developers recognize the need.

So here’s my suggestion: Start over. Stop giving it away.

Get off the mass thinking merry go round. Scale down your paper based operations to serve those who still value hard copy and will pay for it. Distribute most of your content online to specific interests.

Stop trying to compete with freebie information providers.If your content is the same old thing (SOT), give it away as marketing, an enticement for something better. If it’s better than the SOT, then charge for it.

Despite the giveaway culture that currently exists, soon value will rule again. We’re already seeing evidence that people online are returning to the concept that you get what you pay for.

But today, those people self-select what they find valuable. They don’t take your word for it.