Easy Does It: How Publishers Can Monetize Their Content


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, originally published on February 27, 2013, placed at No. 11 in our 20 most popular articles of the year.

ADOTAS — Consumers are bombarded with more commercial messaging than ever before from countless sources, but it’s also easier than ever to tune ads out. People fast-forward past multimillion-dollar commercials or subscribe to web-based, commercial-free TV platforms like Netflix. They view more content on the web than ever, but online ads have become virtually invisible to them.

New advertising concepts like native monetization are revitalizing online advertising. Connections between brands and potential customers are more effectively fostered when they add value to the user experience, rather than distract or interrupt. While traditional contextual targeting looks at the entire page (an increasingly noisy signal), native monetization can be relevant to the micro-context: the section, the paragraph, even the sentence. This is native monetization at its most effective – and often it’s just a humble link.

At the level of micro-context, even the most jaded ad viewers tend to register the message. This means that as a content publisher, you have an incredible amount of influence – and it’s growing daily. By publishing content people voluntarily access, you can create commercial intent, which is a highly valuable asset. So how can you monetize that value?

There are a number of approaches you could take. Some publishers develop direct relationships with e-commerce merchants and negotiate a commission for clicks and sales. Others get more elaborate, creating full-blown partnerships with e-tailers or even acquiring e-commerce operations to jointly brand and market products in a model that combines the publishing and sales functions in a single venture.

This is a creative strategy, and the exploits of venerable publishing companies and trendy tastemakers as they graft complex e-commerce operations onto their businesses will probably be studied by MBA students for years to come. But is that really the best way to monetize the value of the commercial intent you generate as a content publisher?

Before making that leap, consider the potential downsides: One-off agreements with e-commerce partners must be individually negotiated and tracked. Partnering with an e-tailer or acquiring an e-commerce operation poses its own challenges, including the need to align the content with a single partner and take on the headaches of managing inventory and distribution. This approach can also compromise your editorial objectivity since it necessarily features close ties to a single product or service source.

For most publishers, the easiest solution is to focus on what they do best – generating strong content that creates commercial intent – and leave the monetization to a third party that specializes in delivering commissions from multiple retailers under a single agreement. With such an approach, publishers can leverage the humble hyperlink to convert commercial intent into sales and transform sales into commissions. This strategy eliminates the need to negotiate multiple agreements and deal with supply chains, warehouses and inventory. It also preserves the publisher’s objectivity. Sometimes, the easiest approach really is the best.



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