Reigniting the Content Economy at Buying & Selling eContent

\While certain segments of the economy are rebounding, the content industry has continued to struggle to get back on its feet. With that in mind, many of the top executives from companies across the content spectrum gathered on April 18-20 at the 11th annual Buying & Selling eContent conference in Arizona to discuss Reigniting the Content Economy. And despite some unexpected turbulence-caused by a certain Icelandic volcano-the program went over well in its first year under the guidance of new chair, EContent editor Michelle Manafy.

Many of the traditional publishers at the event-many of whom are regular attendees of Buying & Selling eContent-were refreshed by the first day's keynote. Richard Hull, president, Blowtorch Media & Entertainment, spoke to the group about what the content industry could learn from Hollywood. In his talk, Everything I Know About Digital Content, I Learned in Hollywood: Engaging Our Next Generation of Customers, Hull urged publishers to start thinking about giving away free content in a new light. "As [Hollywood] made more content available on more channels, it grew the overall pot," he pointed out.

According to Hull, making episodes of television shows available online for free actually increased traditional viewership. He cited the "TechCrunch argument," which basically says that someone coming to your site is doing you a favor, and putting up a pay wall only encourages people to pirate your content. Hollywood has learned this lesson the hard way; when the last five episodes of the CW's Gossip Girl were not made available online, the television viewing audience dropped, and the piracy went up.

Bill Trippe, VP and lead analyst, content strategies of Outsell, Inc.'s Gilbane Group, followed up with Forces Transforming the Business of Digital Publishing. He laid out some of the strategies successful digital publishers have used. Stressing the importance of aligning technical efforts with business goals as well as leadership that follows through on strategic initiatives, Trippe also said companies need to keep an eye on metrics.

Tuesday morning's keynote Ken Doctor, president of Content Bridges, kicked off the day with Is Your Company Ready for the New Newsonomics? He echoed Trippe's point about metrics. With 75% of web users sharing news via email and sites such as Facebook and 33% of Americans reading news on their mobile phones, he said that analytics are more important than ever. "Social sites are the new homepages," he said.

"Where is your news traffic coming from?" Doctor asked the audience. New knowledge about analytics is beginning to drive editorial decisions, says Doctor, with companies such as Demand Media emerging to produce targeted content.

He urged companies not to over think strategies, pointing out some approaches for delivering results: For example, web coupon use has risen by 263%, making one of print media's tried and true revenue streams one of online's most promising moneymakers. However, Doctor also proffered some sobering statistics for news sites: Though 57% of people say they go to the internet to get their immediate news fixes, only 10% of people say they would consider paying for news on the web.

Print and digital news authority Caspar de Bono, managing director of Financial Times Business and B2B Financial Times, delivered his session Emerging Business Models for the New Information Order virtually. With flights grounded due to volcanic ash, de Bono could not get to Arizona. In lieu of a personal appearance, de Bono recorded his presentation and called in via Skype to answer questions.

The conference ended on an energetic note with Anne Holland's Online Subscription & Membership Sites: Business Research Data. Among other things, she laid out the top three ways to increase profits on subscription sites as determined by her team's research.

First, Holland says, companies need to conduct A/B testing of their pages. Next, she said that companies must improve their search marketing. Holland listed additional revenue streams as the third key to increasing profits. Once you've got subscribers, she said, it is paramount to use that leverage to sell them other products or at last "sell their eyeballs."

Without a doubt, this is a challenging time for all areas of the digital content industry. This year's Buying & Selling eContent conference did what it does best: It brought together the best and the brightest to discuss challenges and opportunities. Yet this year, attendees felt that the conference was reinvigorated with new voices, fresh ideas, and sound strategies that will deliver on the conference theme to reignite the content economy.