If someone comes to you with a 'great' product that just needs some marketing, the game is probably already over. - Seth Godin
Bolt on Publicity
Some companies give exclusives to people willing to syndicate their misinformation, but that is not without cost. It is getting harder to push stories without merit via public relations because things are becoming more transparent and media outlets are outing each other - a trend that will only increase as the media business models get squeezed.
Consider Daniel Lyons take on the media and Apple's public relations: "It's one thing for PR flacks to tell lies. That is, after all, what they get paid to do. But it's another thing for the media to join in on the action." He was (at least temporarily) booted of MSNBC for his bluntness.
Blogging as a Tough Business Model
That same Daniel Lyons wrote about how he couldn't make serious money blogging:
I blogged from cabs, using my BlackBerry. I blogged in the middle of the night, having awakened with an idea. I rationalized this insane behavior by telling myself that at the end of this rainbow I would find a huge pot of gold. But reality kept interfering with this fantasy. My first epiphany occurred in August 2007, when The New York Times ran a story revealing my identity, which until then I'd kept secret. On that day more than 500,000 people hit my site—by far the biggest day I'd ever had—and through Google's AdSense program I earned about a hundred bucks. Over the course of that entire month, in which my site was visited by 1.5 million people, I earned a whopping total of $1,039.81
Making Blogging Work?
The traditional blog ad network model is not doing so well. But some are much better at monetizing blogs. Federated Media's John Battelle mentioned that brand advertisers using their ad network were mostly interested in their ability to buy ads that influenced the media and were integrated into the media. You can read about how the human network became a Wikipedia page here (or here), and see Federated Media's renewed focus here:
Over the past year, it became increasingly clear that the majority of our business was in the execution of these more complex media programs. So when the economy began its nose-dive last Fall, we reached out to our marketing and publishing partners to ask what they wanted from us. Most told us that they need us now more than ever. They value above all else our ability to create highly engaging, cost effective media experiences that allow marketers to connect with their customers. It's high-impact marketing, but it's also time-intensive and nuanced work. We are realigning much of our staff to support the marketers and content creators who make these programs sing by expanding our Strategic Programs and Major Accounts teams. Unfortunately, it also means that we need to lose some staff in our more traditional advertising support business.
Google Uses Pay Per Post Marketing Strategy
Not only are upstart ad networks focusing on interactive media ad buys, but even Google is using paid blog postings to market their search engine in Japan:
the Japanese blogosphere today is filled with reports about Google hiring Cyberbuzz, a Tokyo-based Internet marketing company to promote the keyword feature (its widget version) with a pay-per-post campaign. And in fact, the search string "Google Hot Keywords Ranking+Blog Widget+CyberBuzz" in Japanese in Google's own Blog Search leads to a few dozen results, indicating the reports aren't made up of thin air. This blogger, for example, integrated the keyword widget and praises the list as being very useful to be kept up-to-date on what is going on in the world. This one says the keywords change every 20 minutes and that the new Google feature once quickly helped in obtaining information on a Japanese TV star. All postings end with a disclosure that says: "I am taking part in the Cyberbuzz campaign".
Apparently Google's view of organic marketing changes when they are not a market leading monopoly. :)
The Pollution of the Commons
Companies that realize Google likes reviews have been hard at work encouraging reviews - with Belkin paying 65 cents per fake review.
Advertiser Bias Limits Value
As Seth Godin rightfully notes, when newspapers disappear we won't miss much. If taken at face value, and compared against historical accuracy, some media is worth less than nothing due to the need for advertiser bias:
The bull-biased business press is financed with advertising by financial services firms that primarily sell equities-based mutual funds and stock index funds products, stock brokerage firms that sell stock brokerage services, and stock trading firms that sell trading platforms and tools. It plays up greed-fear in bull markets with the message that you can't afford to stay out of the rising market, and never mind the bubble. During bear markets they play down loss-fear with the message that if you stay out of the market you'll miss the big rally.
The Rise of Disinformation
Worse yet, media does not only have an advertiser bias, but some advertisers push cultural ignorance to mask the flaws of their business models:
"People always assume that if someone doesn't know something, it's because they haven't paid attention or haven't yet figured it out," Proctor says. "But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what's true and what's not."
After years of celebrating the information revolution, we need to focus on the countervailing force: The disinformation revolution. The ur-example of what Proctor calls an agnotological campaign is the funding of bogus studies by cigarette companies trying to link lung cancer to baldness, viruses—anything but their product.
Niche magazines in fields ranging from tech to business are see sharp drops in ad revenues. Traditional advertising is not working as well as it once did, forcing traditional media outlets to cater to advertiser interests.
Mass Pollution Erodes Trust
With the web getting polluted with machine generated personalization, slick infomercials, fake information, crowd-sourced recycled incorrect information, spyware, reverse billing fraud, and fake reviews our general trust for the medium will go down. The barrier to conversion will increase...requiring more steps in the conversion process.
The Value of a Known Trustworthy Voice & Bias
When compared with the advertiser bias of most large media outfits, personalized media with a known friendly voice and bias like this and this become more welcoming, more appealing, and easier to trust.
Ad supported journalism will remain possible, but typically only if you focus on a niche, maintain a small editorial team, and/or are advertising your own products and services. It is not likely that you will be able to charge a subscription fee for general news.
Search Engine Land started out with ads for other services on their site, but now they push co-branded ads, their conferences, and subscription area...once a business publishing brand is known well enough, it should be able to get more value out of its traffic than it can get by selling that attention to third parties...giving its offerings premium positions and selling backfill / remnant inventory to the highest bidder.
How to Build Attention
If you want to have a sustained marketing advantage then renting the media is not going to be as easy as it once was. The better strategy is to make content accessible, participate in the conversation, host the conversation, win marketshare through exclusives, ride current news & marketing trends, and give away that which others are selling. That is how you build the mindshare needed to get people seeing you as the market default, and to cultivate linking without thinking.
Figure out how to build attention and a brand, and all you need to do is create something that is better than free, and start selling it to your legions of loyal followers.