The Revenue Streams of 2010


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That pressure that you digital media managers are feeling in your right shoulder about now ... that is your publisher leaning hard on you to recover the revenue the company just lost everywhere else. As print and event spending shriveled in 2009, all eyes and ambitions turned to the digital side. Electronic media is being expected to deliver the goods, so the great scramble is on to monetize, monetize, monetize. So what are the best streams in which to lay your oar in coming months?

Data, data, and more data: There's a reason we call this medium "digital." In the end, the internet is a massive database of information and audience, and the spoils go to those who parse both the best. Publishers are scrambling to buy and enhance data subscription products. Indexes, catalogs, company listings, directories-these are the raw content products on which many businesses rely, not the peerless prose from people such as myself. Some publishers tell me their data subscription products actually grew or maintained their own this year, even as other parts of the balance sheet crashed. The other part of the data equation is the information that sites collect about their users. Profiles and behavioral data are about to become the coin of the realm for digital advertising. The more you know about your user and pass on to the ad servers, networks, and exchanges, the higher the CPMS you will realize on nonpremium inventory. Many ad networks survived the Great Recession because the underlying model really does work: Advertisers will pay for targeted media.

Lead generation: For a marketer, especially in the high-ticket, long-sell world of B2B, the ultimate data is a name and a number. For B2B publishers, "investing in digital" often means investing in lead-generation programs, from white papers to email and from higher registration walls to webinars. Find ways to deliver potential clients, not just eyeballs. There is an ancillary benefit: This model requires a true and fair exchange of value with the user. They don't give up their names for nothing, and lead-generation programs help focus a publisher on the content and service the audience really values.

Mobile ... again: The good thing about there being no "year of mobile" is that the platform can perpetually be cited as up-and-coming. Actually, the real game changer of 2009 was not only the app stores but the approach some publishers were taking to mobile. With increasingly flexible pricing models from Research in Motion, Google's Android, and Apple, publishers can experiment with new content and service packages cheaply and quickly. As with lead-generation models, mobile is a platform that forces publishers to pare their bloated content down to the essentials people need ... and will pay to get.

We're all marketing services providers now: As one business publisher described it to me, marketing services is the bridge between the data that publishers now want to sell you and the media they always used to sell you. A company uses your directories and indexes, market intelligence, etc., to find a market for a new product. Then the "marketing services" division helps them figure out how to position the new product, craft a marketing strategy that involves (wait for it) buying all of the media, custom publishing, and lead-generation products they always sold before. Brands have been leveraging the web for years as an end run around traditional media. The media mob pushes back. "You want to disintermediate us. You don't disintermediate us. We disintermediate you!"

Pay or pray ... for a revenue miracle: I save for last the place most articles on content revenue start. As we ended 2009, there was no shortage of plans for publishers to extract revenues directly from users. Google is repackaging its Checkout micropayment solution, and Journalism Online wants a confederacy of allied newspapers. E-readers promise to add value people will pay for. Virtual currency economies will let you buy a smile and send it to a Facebook friend. Everyone has a gimmick, a gadget, a plan that is supposed to reverse 15 years of online habits. Some incremental revenue will be realized here, to be sure. But the real danger in pursuing the paid content model too aggressively is that it will deflect resources and effort from the models that will continue to be the main revenue streams, advertising and marketing. To paraphrase a high-profile financial news executive I know: "I think paid content models are great. I urge all of you to put up subscriptions walls now ... so I can start selling more ads to the clients who abandon you as your traffic plummets."