Monetizing the Web

Today I read an article about Irish newspapers plotting to charge for linking to their content. We’ve all heard about this before and people seem to get up in arms about it every single time it is mentioned. I think this frustration and disgust are misplaced.

See, here’s the deal: if you want to make money from people using your site, you have to get them there.

Ultimately, there is a paradigm shift that happened with the web which traditional media is having a hard time wrapping their brains around — links are gold. They are the currency of the web and the word of mouth in the electronic universe.

At one time, it made sense for media outlets to limit the distribution of their content through other media channels. It hurt sales and trimmed valuable advertising money from their pockets. They never said “don’t mention our article to people or we’ll charge you.” That’s foolishness. Big media wanted, and still wants, people to know they got the scoop before anyone else. It keeps them in business.

So why limit linking? It limits the number of page views and, subsequently, the amount of advertiser money that comes in.

I get it. They want you to click around the site looking for that one piece of content you heard about. The problem? News sites pretty much universally stink with regard to user experience and findability. If it isn’t on the front page it may as well have never happened. This is the heart of their problem, really. They are spending so much time trying to milk every penny out of someone’s pocket they can’t see they need some real help.

My message you to, media outlets: Fix your sites. Make them easier to use. Put your reader first instead of your pocketbook. The advertising money will come. If you want to erect paywalls, fine, but don’t kill the one thing which might save you. Protect your links. Treat them like someone handed you free money. Encourage people to share. If you don’t, I won’t be angry, I’ll just never know you existed. Do us all a favor and make the web a better place.

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