Content Will Have a Price on the Web

This week in Washington DC, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission held a two-day workshop on the future of journalism in the Internet age.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch is still bullish on the industry.

The key to competing in tough economic times is to invest more, not less, in journalism, Mr. Murdoch said.

An advocate for charging for media content, Murdoch feels the industry needs to step up and provide content that consumers will be willing to pay for.   

“Good journalism is an expensive commodity,” he said. “Critics say people won’t pay,” Mr. Murdoch said. “I believe they will.”

While Mr. Murdoch gave his opinions on the future of editorial content on the web, another major media outlet is preparing to launch its own brand of content that will be appetizing to readers and sponsors alike.

AOL, which has been looking to eliminate about a third of its editorial staff, has been hiring freelancers for the purpose of developing original content.  However, this new editorial content system will directly be correlated to what readers feel are the most important stories.

Drew Grant wrote a piece on AOL’s new editorial strategy in the Nov. 30 issue of Media Bistro.

The company has also been hiring teams of freelancers to produce original content for its sites at a time when most media companies are cutting back, putting them in a unique position: AOL can produce original news without having to aggregate it from other sources. (However, despite its hiring blitz, AOL is still seeking to trim about a third of its staff in order to cut its budget for the New Year.)

And now it’s time, says AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong, to start raking in the cash from this production after its split from Time Warner next month, through the use of an automated system that will tell editors and advertisers which content should draw the biggest audience.

While this all sounds like a new, inventive way to both produce news and give jobs back to writers, it comes at a cost: AOL sites’ advertisers, who will have a large role in what is being placed on the pages they pay for. Not directly, AOL promises, by overseeing the content, but marketers will be able determine how much freelancers will get paid. suggests:

“AOL will be using the forthcoming site to coordinate article assignments among its 3,000 freelancers. The new system will also help determine how much freelancers get paid, as it predicts how much marketers might pay to advertise on a particular article…The automated tracking system could also mean that AOL’s freelancers make additional money. Technology predicts marketers will pay to advertise next to their articles or videos. The predictions of what an advertiser might pay ranges from zero to over $100.”

So no, editorial on AOL’s website won’t be dictated by advertisers, though you might want to keep in mind the products sponsoring your site when writing freelance for the company, at least if you want to get paid.

The era of all Internet editorial content being free for consumers is quickly evaporating.  For media outlets it means survival.

Here at iMedia Public Relations, we have actively looked to create Internet-related content for clients, whether it is online video, blog postings, social media outreach or web site editorial.

Now, as the industry begins moving to a pay scale, opportunities may also come for clients as sponsors or direct content producers for media partners looking for information that will bring more viewers to their sites.

This new content era will create a fine line between what is editorial and what is commercial content.  The FTC will be watching and it will behoove all public relations professionals to monitor closely how content is developed and positioned for clients on the Internet.

Tom Cosentino


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