Content Without Subscribers Will Become Worthless

Traditional Publishers Are Wising Up to the Web

The WSJ posted an article about travel publishers wising up to the web, placing large chunks of their books online:

John Wiley & Sons, the publisher based in Hoboken, N.J., is offering an array of free travel tidbits and articles on the site of its Frommer's travel-book series. Not only can visitors to the site read blogs or listen to podcasts, they can plan and book trips -- generating commission revenue for

When you think of the authority of the Frommer's domain name (over 10 years old, PR7, 364,000 links), they must be able to get millions of pages of content indexed.

The first publishers to put their whole books online will see amazing returns because few people are doing it. The WSJ article stated that Wiley was already enjoying 10 to 15 million a year from 3 flagship sittes (Frommer's, For Dummies, and Cliff Notes). After hearing the early results, others will follow, putting all or nearly all of their content online. The lagging publishers will make crumbs, but their books will flood the search results with content that undermines the value of lower quality content.

Books Publishing is Fast Becoming a Vanity Industry

I was offered to get SEO Book published by one of the leading book publishing houses. I have made more in a day than what they were offering me as down payment for writing the book. And they wanted me to do all the book marketing as well, for no further compensation unless I sold enough books to make the hot books lists. It didn't help that my profit margins from a book sale would have been less than what I pay for a click.

I was unwilling to get published because I thought there was upside in the current model, in a growing market, and realized that the model of being published did not work unless I was interested in feeding my ego, in need of credibility, or was writing a book just to up sell more expensive services.

Ad Revenues Are Richer Than Book Profits

If I couldn't afford to buy ads for a physical book, that hints that the format and price-point lock in value in a way that is far from the potential returns if that value was unlocked.

I recently went on a book buying binge to get content ideas for one of my sites. I spent over $500 buying 30+ books, searching through them for their ideas, their structure, and their format. It was easy to do that because they are so under-priced relative to their value. I have an AdSense site that was far easier to create than many of those books were, but it makes about $1,000 a day.

If those publishers just put the content online they would make far more than I am from my AdSense site. My AdSense model only works so long as they don't put their content online, or I create a better known brand than they do.

Defending an AdSense Site's Viability

If your strategy is entirely long tail keyword oriented and you don't have a real brand your income will fall sharply in the next couple years. Site targeted AdWords will cause premium publishers to get paid more for similar content, and position placement reports will trim back the ad buys on sites with limited exposure and few conversions.

Not only will many of these books go online, but many of them with serious distribution and authority will act as gateways or clearinghouses for related books. What is to stop a publisher from pushing 10 other economics books on the Freakonomics site? Why not turn Frommer's into an endless sea of travel information?

Whoever introduces an idea gets credit for it, but, as hinted by my book buying binge tip, most of the content on the web is just copied and repackaged. Packaging and formatting can make an idea or kill it before it has a chance to spread. Everywhere I look there are free tips on formatting and monetizing, numerous competitors testing and tweaking, and market feedback is near real-time if I change my format or offer.

The only way to avoid losing to big publishers is to create real brands, position them as self reinforcing authorities, aggressively monetized and reinvest in marketing, and get hundreds or thousands of subscribers to spread your message and do your marketing for you.

Momentum is a force. Use the force. ;)

Content Strategies: Bulk Content vs Higher Quality Information

Rupert Murdock is trying to trade Yahoo MySpace for a 25% stake in the combined company. If Yahoo goes through with that, Rupert's $580 million MySpace investment will be worth about $10 billion. But should Yahoo do it?

Everyone Wants Dow Jones

Why Everyone Wants Dow Jones

The reporting at the WSJ may be better than other places, but even more importantly are the relationships that are in place and the perception that it is better. As many of the newspapers see their margins erode the top few will have more leverage over the market, because the smaller players will be forced to rely more on community created news (mostly noise or something Google could easily replicate) or syndicating news from companies like Dow Jones.

As content quality and relevancy algorithms improve and Google (or similar outfits) control more of the traffic supply the noise content will become less and less accessible (because traffic sources will rank the higher quality stuff to sell ads against and clone the low level stuff to keep hold of that traffic stream). The MySpace experience is not hard to clone.

Yahoo Does Not Need MySpace

Yahoo could grab MySpace and get a bunch of low value inventory in a spam filled network on the decline, or they could get the #1 financial newspaper for less. Yahoo already has a lot of traffic. They don't need another layer of noise. If they could innovate in the social space they ought to be able to do it with their current assets and traffic stream. As the web gets better at filtering signal vs noise, quality will beat out quantity nearly every time.

The Solidification of Markets

As offline players wake up to the online world the following is happening

  • search will get more relevant and become harder to manipulate (unless you already have significant offline influence or other assets you can leverage)

  • markets will get more efficient
  • all online verticals will get more competitive
  • markets will consolidate

How Does This Crap Relate to Me?

As markets evolve the threshold between signal and noise changes. Is your site the type of site that would be easy for Google to clone? Is your content the type of contet Google created the supplemental index for?

Look how bad some of the top ranked content is that still ranks because it is old and was considered high quality content years ago. Imagine how much harder it will be to crack into markets a couple years from now, when people are working so much harder to make higher quality citation worthy content today in so many formats.

The later you start the harder it gets. An hour of focused energy building citation worthy and brand building content today is worth 2 hours next year and 4 hours a year after that.

The effort spent building two parallel sites targeting the same keywords would be better spent creating one stronger brand. Markets are self reinforcing and exposure leads to more exposure.

To stay competitive independent webmasters will increasingly need to chose fewer high quality projects over a large quantity of cheaper lower quality information. Top trusted editorial channels have far more value than bottom feeding networks.

If My Mom Read This How Would She React

Jun 17th

Most linkbait tends to focus on controversy, flavor of the moment hot items, or various forms of regurgitated content. Short term sites can get a spike from such activities, but real longterm brands are not built exclusively off them. Many people ask me how to create something remarkable and linkworthy. You can research just about any market and come up with a few ideas in 10 minutes. See what ideas spread in the past, and see what news stories were popular in parallel markets. Look at

  • what people are talking about in the market right now

  • the top search results
  • popular related searches
  • terms in the same field that are often covered by the mainstream media (or others who point authoritative links at competing sites)
  • bookmarked results on social media sites

You can take it one step further and create something you would be proud to show your mom. Certainly cliche to say that, but if you are creating that kind of content then you are on the right path. And if your mom hates your market or is no longer around, see who the leaders are in your market and impress them. From their perspective, is what you are doing unique and original enough to be comment worthy. Be honest.

There is also one other way to tell if what you are doing is going to be highly linkable or a passing fad. Imagine you were the person in the market who is seen as the leading authority for the keyword or idea you are going after. Is your idea good enough that the person you want to replace would be willing to link at it or try to copy it (depending on the type of person they are)?

If they are likely to recreate your idea what tangible assets can you leverage to make it hard to duplicate? Is there a way you can brand the idea as your own to where others market your brand by even mentioning the topic? Is there a domain name that adds credibility to your offering? Is there a way you can ask for community involvement to get other topical gurus to help spread your idea?

It doesn't matter if you try and fail. You at least learn from it. Eventually something will stick, and you only need to be right once.

What is a Newspaper Website?

Jun 12th

It is something you throw co-branded lead generation offers on to get past search engine quality scores and search relevancy scores based on domain trust and authority.

Washington Post Advertisement.

With classifieds becoming a free service, it won't be long until these types of lead generation pages are on every major news site. Soon after that, they will heavily link to them from their content articles, further blurring the line between content and advertisements. But then again, that is the standard Google is setting by mixing videos in their organic search results, and suggesting people watch related video ads.

Automated Content Development & Moral Dilemmas in Marketing

Fantomaster had a great comment about whether automated content generation is moral:

I don't really get the "moral dilemma". Would you say the same about press releases, product announcements, ads, commented statistical tables and other forms of corporate droidspeak? And if not - why not?

I mean, it's not as if the Web as a whole were particularly dominated by high end literary prose, deeply suggestive well crafted poetry or similar feats of human creativity.

And, when you think of it, what is Mahalo but a human compiled scraper? Why is it ok that the WSJ publishes auto-generated looking advertorials? Thompson, like search engines, already produces automated content.

Journalistic integrity matters most to those who need you to believe others are unethical for their business models to work.

Why Nobody Clicks Your AdSense Ads

May 31st

I don't understand why Will Wheaton considers both Google AdSense and Federated Media as jokes for not being able to sell his ad space for more than a couple hundred a month. Consider his ads were

  • laregly irrelevant due to the nature of his site

  • tucked away in the right side bar
  • on a tech blog where nobody clicks

If you want to sell brand ads sell them yourself, or create your own product to sell. If you are selling anything else you have to integrate them into your site. I have seen a CTR in excess of 10% off a single Google AdLinks unit. Those ads were targeted, aggressively integrated, and commercially oriented. That ad unit suffered from none of the faults of Will's ad model.

You need to do more than get free subscribers to create a business model. There are always new things to talk about in the tech, gadgets, and my life categories, but most of them probably have little commercial value.

Mind Mapping & Internal Link Equity

May 30th

Bill Slawski recently made a post about using mind mapping to think of types of people who would be interested in a site and types of content one would want to create to appeal to them.

Effective navigation acts as a visual cue and guides people through your site. If your site was rendered without graphics or CSS would people still be able to understand what your site was about? Today I spoke with the owner of Saffron Marigold. While the site has been featured on HGTV and in the NYT it is still only converting to a portion of its potential because the top level navigation consists of about, products, policies, shopping bag, my account. That navigation could not possibly be any more generic.

Effective navigation is descriptive and places the most important / common / profitable needs first.

I just looked at my navigation, and it wrongfully assumes the reader already knows what search engine optimization is. This site would be more effective and profitable if there was a page linked to about What is SEO?, or some other general introductory post. Spamming Google

May 28th

It is no secret that and many other major news sites publish advert / lead generation sections (get your meso help at Forbes), but a newer trend is that trusted publishers are creating these types of pages without even placing links or lead generation forms in them.

Check out this BizJournals page titled Apply For A Credit Card Online, complete with interesting backlinks and quality copywriting:

Not only can you comparison shop for credit card offers online, but you can also apply for a credit card online. This is rather convenient. In one fell swoop, you can tour through all kinds of credit cards, then apply for the one that best suits you.

How does that type of content end up published on that site?

The Mass Amateurization of Everything

May 22nd

Dave Winer, a popular blogger, gave a speech about blogging. The video is here and a reviewer said this:

Dave started by noting that it’s easier for the user to become a manufacturer than a manufacturer to become a user. What’s wrong with the manufacturers of the world? They come down from the mountain with their product for you to buy and worship, and then maybe two years later they return with the next product for you to buy and worship. Dave then asked the audience to think about how things have changed over the past ten, fifteen, twenty years, especially around travel and dealing with travel agents.

When it comes to making money, Dave dismissed ads on websites. Instead, the websites should be ads for ourselves and we should learn who shares common interests. An example he provided is Engadget: how long until Engadget is providing feedback to manufacturers around exactly what they & gadget lovers want? This would make manufacturers fulfillment houses for visionary users.

The Value of Blogging

Top bloggers offer blogging tips, and now some are packaged as a free Firefox extension. With each word we write we are selling ourselves. In some cases a blog post is worth over a billion dollars.

Faster Communication & Feedback

What is important is not blogging itself, but communication. Everywhere you look communication is getting faster and cheaper. You can test an idea and see market response in near real time.

Why is that important? If you care about something it is easy to talk about it in a meaningful way and create ideas that will spread far and fast. The faster they spread the more profitable they are and the further you can spread your next idea. If you mess up packaging your message you can repackage it and launch it again.

Success & Emulation

When I do not read much my writing gets bad. When I read my writing quickly improves.

Some people spread ideas directly, while others chose to emulate them. One of the biggest historical drivers of innovation has been the rate of substitution. When another person replicates what you do in their community you then need to do something else to keep providing value. On the web one only stays original if they are willing to take big risks or constantly change. The worst ideas die and the best stick around, spread, are emulated, spread, are emulated, etc etc etc.

Every day there is a new list of ideas.

Copyright is Irrelevant

The Internet crosses all borders, touches people at every moral and socioeconomic background, and is largely controlled by amoral profit driven machines, thus it has no respect for copyright. The end result is that you either actively participate in the database of content, conversation, and idea sharing, or attempt to lock out your content and ideas, only to see others claim / repackage / profit from them.

Does journalism cost too much? Too bad. Nobody is at fault. Is my price point too high? Someone in China is probably selling my ebook for $10 (or less). It is probably on some torrent websites too. Can I stop them? Probably not.

Packaging is Virtually Free

It costs almost nothing to record videos. YouTube has beta features which allows consumers to swap out audio with officially licensed audio files, show others what you are watching, and comment with others watching the same thing you are. By and large the paid video market died before it was even created.

Others leverage distribution and add features to add value to your content. The shared experience becomes the content, and unless you opt out you are in the network, hoping to keep getting paid for offering up the scraps of original content, hoping to stay relevant.

Online Substitution

Increased communication and information sharing leads to more of the same. You either submit your content to the machine, or they will grab as much as they can for free, then point off to those who are borrowing it and running ads against it.

If Google had rights to music lyrics, they would let you go from here to reading them here. But if you do not give Google rights they just link off to the top free sources sharing your lyrics. The same is true with your videos and stories...content in any format. If you do not share your stuff then whoever talks about it and represents it best online gets credit for it as though they created it.

So either you put the official video online, or someone records a concert, or people see a cover / alternate rendition. If you somehow manage to block all that then it is as though you don't exist, and you are losing marketshare to those who are being talked about.

While YouTube is only a couple years old, The Wall Street Journal already published an article about how to be a YouTube star and it being too easy to game most viewed stats. No surprise those articles were free samples. Even the journal has to give away content to keep their relevancy in a market of mass amateurization.


Just search for typos like amature and amatuer to see porn webmasters working the dictionary. There are so many misspelled results that Google doesn't even try to correct the misspellings. :)

The Consolidation of Traffic, Web Communities, & Promotion of Fringe Publishing

May 18th

Nick Carr recently published an article about how page views are consolidating:

He found that between the end of 2001 and the end of last year, the number of Internet domains expanded by more than 75%, from 2.9m to 5.1m. At the same time, however, the dominance of the most popular domains grew substantially. At the end of 2001, the top 10 websites accounted for 31% of all the pages viewed on the net. By the end of last year, the top 10 accounted for fully 40% of page views. There are more destinations online, but we eem to be visiting fewer of them.

Now that you can play music in Google's search results you have to think that consolidation is only going to get worse.

The cited research also notes that social sites are playing a role in the consolidation of traffic. Andrew Goodman recently published an article about why people would want to contribute to online communities. He noted that much of the community giving spirit is based on a common thread of a shared sense of justice in society. It then makes sense that political blogs, religious sites, deep niche sites, and things built on heavily biased/warped worldviews are typically stronger communities that are likely easier to maintain than those based on broad interests.

Add to that the following, and a clear trend emerges:

  • people pay more attention to and believe what resonates with them

  • people are more likely to share with those that resonate with them
  • fringe biased content is typically more remarkable than vanilla unbiased content
  • controversies spread far

As the big players keep taking verticals away from smaller players, back-filling their databases with partner licensed content, and personalizing results to match our worldviews, the profitable (and thus sustainable) communities will move more toward the fringe edges.

Unless there is some other change to modern relevancy algorithms, the top ranked results will be watered down vanilla content from editorially trusted sources or heavily biased content from the fringe. A mixture of various biases will also allow people to believe in whatever they thought was right before the consulted the oracle. There will be a reasonable accessible source for every lie. Thus we will think the information is of greater value, while it turns out to be low value entertainment leading to self fulfilling prophecies...but at least the ads will be targeted. :)


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