Who will pay for content?
If you're a writer, a reporter, a film producer or some other sort of information artist, that's the billion-dollar question on your mind. The monetization schemes we've grown up with are deteriorating, and it's unclear where the next decade of pay checks will come from.
Lots of ideas are on the table (Jeff Jarvis recently summarized many), but most media makers are ignoring one strategy that is actually working: creating content for businesses.
I'm not talking about infomercials. I'm talking about content used as inbound marketing -- high-quality blogs, research and video that is useful and interesting to a business' customers. Businesses are finding that this type of media is an effective way of attracting potential customers to their web sites.
Consider the world of inside sales content. Ten years ago, the best way to monetize inside sales content was to publish it in a print magazine with advertising next to it. Today, companies that operate in this world have a huge incentive to create and publish content on their own. That's why some of the best sales content you'll find is on the blog of The Bridge Group, an inside sales services business.
This type of content has real business value. The HubSpot blog is currently generating about 400 or 500 leads a week for HubSpot's paid software package. Assuming we pay $10/lead for blog leads (and that's low, because the blog leads are very, very high quality), the blog is generating $4,000 to $5,000 in value for us a week. That's a model that works.
Of course, traditional media turns its nose up at content produced by business. Business content is biased and low quality, they assume.
But that's no longer true. Businesses now have an incentive to create high-quality content where bias is minimized and transparent. Businesses like HubSpot and The Bridge Group can generate lots of leads and traffic from content -- but only if readers embrace their content by linking and sharing.
I see this firsthand editing the HubSpot blog. The posts I'm not happy about (the ones I know will be less useful to our target customers) generate less traffic, links, leads and -- ultimately -- customers. That gives me a strong incentive to keep quality high.
Content produced by businesses isn't going to fill the gap left when newspapers disappear, but it will be part of the solution. If you're a content consumer, businesses will become an increasingly reliable source of information. If you're a content producer, businesses will become an increasingly reliable source of income.