If content is “king”, then what’s wrong with paying for it?

I’ll be heading to nextMEDIA Toronto this week to take in the broader discussion and also moderate a panel with some incredible producers talking about bringing traditional media content into the digital space, and most of all, methods to monetize that content.  I’m always excited to speak on these sorts of subjects because, for all the valuable content we consume on a daily basis – between the news, the weather, research, slideshare presentations, tabloids, sports reports, games, television series, web videos, iPhone apps and more – people tend to give it a pretty bad rap.  Considering how long we’ve acknowledged content, either jokingly or legitimately, as “king”, I think it’s a little unfair.  Content business models simply need time to reinvent themselves, and once they do “the king’s” crown will hopefully lose all traces of this recent tarnish.

But as the digital space evolves, in our YouTube age, content business models have fallen behind in the massive boom of both content production and consumption.  And it’s impossible not to notice.  From the controversial “Free” by Wired Editor Chris Anderson, which makes content’s decreasing value one of its core arguments (to sell the content that is the book itself ) to the stats we’re inundated with on a daily basis, telling us 80% of North American consumers won’t pay for online offerings from newspapers and magazines, content has become the proverbial red-headed step child of the new creative economy.  At least for now.

Free - more of a marketing tactic than a price?

More of a tactic than a business model

While Rupert Murdoch is being widely panned for charging pennies for access to his papers (which I fully support, given its value and cost of production) many are looking for other ways to re-establish revenue models for content.  The key to this, as was noted in a fabulous recent article by Fred Davis on PaidContent.org, is that we need to find ways to monetize access, not ownership.  All consumer evidence seems to be pointing to a world where on demand, real-time streaming content is going to be the dominant method for consumption, but it’s such a rapidly evolving phenomenon that the business models haven’t caught up.  People don’t want to buy a paper or a DVD, they want digital information served to them, on the fly, wherever they are.  And as younger generations grow into the consumers of tomorrow, the desire for tangible ownership will only decrease.

So to Davis’ point, we need to create models wherein we can engage with audiences in new and more meaningful ways so that the physical ownership of the content becomes irrelevant to the business model.  Easier said that done, but a step in the right direction.   This is a challenge that user-generated content sites like Twitter and Facebook are grappling with right now with highly engaged audiences ranking in the tens and hundreds of millions, respectively.  That said, each company is valued at over $1billion and highly capitalized from the world’s top investors – so there must be some folks who have confidence in us cracking that nut!

If television found a way to so effectively monetize a static box that people spent a few hours a day with, imagine the possibilities for us to monetize a real-time feed of educational, informational and entertaining content, available to consumers on demand?!

The very nature of content is simply evolving too rapidly at the moment and needs a little time to figure out how to reinvent the business aspect of its delivery and consumption.  All I ask is, don’t give up on your king just yet.