Tweet: Worthless readers. And what to do about Murdoch et al’s whining about them.
One response publishers make to my argument that Google drives value to them and their content in the link economy is that the readers Google sends are worthless.
Worthless readers. WIliam Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, Joseph Medill, Katherine Graham, and C.P. Scott are rolling (with pained laughter) in their graves. Since when did readers become worthless? Since when did a newspaper have enough readers?
“We can’t monetize those readers,” the hapless publishers whine. What’s the problem with these readers? “They read just one article and then leave,” is one complaint. “We can’t sell enough ads,” is another. And how is that Google’s fault?
No, this is the publishers’ failure and fault, not Google’s. Only the publishers can fix it. That they would rather complain than try is only evidence that they have given up on growth, on optimism, on the future. Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, have said they would rather shrink to more valuable (read: paying) customers, but then James has also said that News Corp. is no longer a news company but a TV company. It’s one matter to get rid of readers who cost too much because your trucks drive too far to deliver newspapers to them or you bribe them too often with bingo/wingo or sneakerphones to get them to subscribe. But online, more readers costs you nothing but bandwidth, which keeps on costing less. So Murdoch pere et fils have surrendered.
I choose not to. I say there is plenty they could do:
1. Relevance. Publishers should provide more relevant links and content to satisfy and serve these readers. I learned at About.com, where I consulted, that the most effective means of driving more traffic into the site, rather than away, was relevant links. Readers may come via search but may not find what they are looking for, so offer them more. If someone came to your restaurant for the crab cakes, wouldn’t you also offer slaw?
2. Context. I want to suggest abandoning the article for the constantly updated topic page (a la Wave). The problem with an article online is that it has a short half life and gathers few links and little ongoing attention and thus Googlejuice. It’s for this reason that Google’s Marissa Mayer has been advising publishers to move past the article to the topic. Abandoning the article for some living, breathing news beast yet to be defined may be a bit too radical for today’s publishers. So instead, I suggest, at least place the article into a space with broader context – archives, quotes, photos, links, discussion, wikified knowledge about the topic, feeds of updates; make the article a gateway to anything more you’d want on its subjects. Daylife (where I’m a partner) is working on something like that.
3. Sell. When someone comes in from search without a cookie attached, you know this person is not a regular reader. Yet you give her the same page you give to your constant readers. What you should do, instead, is sell the wonders of your site. Show off your best and most popular stuff. I’ve heard and used the phrase “every page a home page” for years, but I’ve never seen a publisher mean it, except for Stockholm’s Aftonbladet. Go to the site, click on most any store, and scroll down and you will find the entire home page replicated. Insane? Like a Swede.
4. Sell ads. OK, so this search-driven reader may not be local and so you can’t serve an ad for the hospital up the street. What sites do instead is place remnant network ads there at terribly low CPMs; that is why they complain about the value of readers who come from Google, Drudge, et al. But Dave Morgan’s Tacoda solved – at least until it was swallowed up by AOL [pardon me, Aol.] – by using data points across sites to maximize the value of ads served (e.g., someone who visits a travel site is served a high-CPM travel ad even after leaving and going to a harder-to-target local site). I’ve been arguing for reverse syndication as a means of maximizing ad value and even suggested that papers should link together to sell their national inventory (oh, that’s right, they tried to in the New Century Network but couldn’t get their act together … surprise!).
5. Kill commodity news and cost. Focus. Part of the problem is that papers carry commodity content that draws audience – via search – that is hard to target with local advertising. That commodity content also costs money to produce. A key imperative of the link economy is that one must specialize – to draw the “right” audience and to find the efficiency that comes from doing what you do best and linking to the rest. The better job a paper does focusing, the more it can create appropriate content to attract appropriate audience and advertising and the more economically it can operate.
6. Stop whining. It’s unbecoming. It makes you look weak and wimpy as if you have no strategy and no control over your vision and have just given up on adapting to new realities and growing by finding new audience and building a future but only plan to milk the last drops out of your dying business. Or maybe that’s all true.
: See Danny Sulllivan, who beat me to writing this post.
This is round two against Google. In round one, some publishers said Google steals our content. Google’s response was that it sends them millions of visitors for free. So in round two, it’s time to make out like those visitors aren’t worth much. That’s especially important if you’re an executive who, after floating the idea of dropping Google, comes under attack as stupidly cutting your own throat.
Me, I see visitors as opportunities. This is the internet, where you can tell far more about a visitor to your web site than you can in print. . . .
Do something. Anything. Please. Survive. But there’s one thing you shouldn’t do. Blame others for sending you visitors and not figuring out how to make money off of them.
See also Umair Haque: “Blocking Google is about as smart as eating a pound of plutonium.”
: On Twitter, Steven Johnson asks: “unless they’re “worth less” than the cost of serving the page, what’s the harm since Google delivers them for free?”