Steve Smith

Steve Smith is a recovering academic turned new media consultant and critic. He received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Brown and taught media criticism and history for a number of years at the University of Virginia. The former editor of Min's New Media Report and current Senior Editor of Wireless Business Forecast, Smith is a columnist for Media Industry Newsletter and also writes extensively about online advertising. He is a consultant to Web publishers and interactive ad agencies and is researching a full-length biography of comedy legend and Mad Magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman.

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Articles by Steve Smith

I say this with love: Podcasting needs an upgrade. I am struck by the lack of genuine innovation around its content, distribution, discoverability, and monetization.
Column/Follow the Money - Autumn 2019 Issue, Posted Oct 22, 2019
The basic dynamic of having content disintermediated and fragmented from its source—and aggregated by a third party—has not changed, even if some of the faces and demeanors of the platforms do.
Column/Follow the Money - Summer 2019 Issue, Posted Jul 16, 2019
Critics target as socially harmful only those personal technologies they find vaguely distasteful or unfamiliar while they notably exclude others. We never respond to images of masses of people reading newspapers in public or nose-down in their own books at libraries as dire signs of alienation. Our hand-wringing about the social costs of mobile gadgetry is as selective and myopic as it ultimately unhelpful in understanding the phenomenon that is mobile.
Column/Follow the Money - Posted Dec 13, 2018
Fears of new mass media being hijacked tug at a fear that the citizenry—hence, democracy—somehow can be manipulated by extra-democratic forces.
Column/Follow the Money - Autumn 2018 Issue, Posted Nov 27, 2018
Of the many disasters the digital media industrial complex has weathered in recent months, the most damaging may be that serious journalists are now scrutinizing it. How ironic that legacy media, with deep traditional journalism chops, exposed social channels that generally have been commoditizing news.
Column/Follow the Money - Summer 2018 Issue, Posted Aug 14, 2018
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands like Allbirds, Quip, Warby Parker, Harry's, Purple Carrot, Casper and Purple mattresses have a lot to teach content providers about reaching new audiences, building consumer-first products, and service.
Column/Follow the Money - Posted Jun 14, 2018
Facebook—all social media, really—has had a really bad few weeks. Public and political sentiment is peaking against its outsized power in driving news agendas, if not elections, for instance. And a woefully inadequate regimen for policing bad actors and misinformation continues to leak despite early attempts by platforms to clean up their acts. But there are also some dire metrics around actual usage patterns and overall trustworthiness with which to contend.
Column/Follow the Money - Posted Mar 15, 2018
As I contemplate my annual look ahead to the promising revenue streams that media companies will chase in the coming year, the horizon looks stormier than usual. The concentration of digital ad and marketing revenue around the triumvirate of Google, Facebook, and Amazon is daunting. The disenchantment among many marketers with traditional display advertising techniques worsens matters. And the brands are tending to look inward at their own first-party data, customer relationship management (CRM), direct-to-consumer channels.
Column/Follow the Money - November/December 2017 Issue, Posted Nov 28, 2017
I should cop to my bias at the outset. I have been on the podcasting bandwagon since shortly after Apple added the format to its iTunes player in 2005. Personalization and portability, along with the seamless continuity of media experiences across different contexts, was the magic for me. And it is not surprising that the same recipe is at the heart of the most successful digital media brand of our era: Netflix.
Column/Follow the Money - September/October 2017 Issue, Posted Sep 12, 2017
For reasons that are beyond me, publishers only now seem to be waking up to the grim reality of digital media economics. In the past few months, analysts and industry associations have been talking up the problem of the digital duopoly—that most of us scramble after ad revenue table scraps left by Facebook and Google. Really? Now this is a thing?
Column/Follow the Money - Posted May 09, 2017
Despite the fact that about 50 million-plus people listen to a podcast each month, ZenithOptimedia projects ad spend at a mere $36.1 million. What is a publisher to do with such bad math? Try different inputs. The benefits of podcasting for both B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) publishers likely outweigh immediate revenue.
Column/Follow the Money - November/December 2016 Issue, Posted Nov 22, 2016
Publishers are finally facing what may kindly be called the "Trumpification" of online advertising. Similar to voter frustration with campaign financing, government gridlock, and political rhetoric, consumers have about had it with the clutter, latency, and intrusiveness of the online experience. Ad blocking is to digital publishing what Trump is to politics: a blunt, perhaps reckless, instrument wielded by consumers because they don't feel as if they have any other recourse.
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2016 Issue, Posted Jul 19, 2016
If 2015 had a single bright, shiny object in the digital media sphere, it was virtual reality (VR). The arrival of more affordable versions of Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens and the mass availability of Google Cardboard helped proliferate the VR experience and stoke the inevitable speculation that personal, immersive experiences would be both the future of computing and digital content generally. Anyone who has donned VR gear can attest to the sheer coolness of the experience. In theory, VR could allow for wondrous immersive effects in journalism-moving us from reporting events to transporting audiences there.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2016 Issue, Posted Mar 08, 2016
For as long as I have been covering digital media, the paid content question has been relentless. Will consumers ever really appreciate and pay directly for the costly journalism they crave? There have been many encouraging but false starts.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2015 Issue, Posted Dec 17, 2015
For a long time, I have argued that online users have a sense memory for publishers that abuse their attention. I think we reserve a special bit of grey matter for the sites that give us trouble. On some level, we recall that site X loads slowly because ad or design bloat drags down its page loads. We record somewhere in our brains that site Y is too reliant on intrusive pop-ups and full-page interstitials. Without a whiff of proof beyond my own surfing experience, I contend that many of us curtail our use of these sites, even if it is by a couple of visits a month or a few video clips not launched. Sites do an immeasurable level of damage to themselves by stretching the bounds of visitor tolerance.
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2015 Issue, Posted Jul 21, 2015
For traditional print media, the digital revolution has been a full-frontal assault on the fundamentals of their editorial and business models. Digitization has been a disaster for most of these companies. So it is noteworthy that one of the oldest magazines in the U.S.--The Atlantic--is among the handful that are truly thriving.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2015 Issue, Posted Mar 10, 2015
As is our custom, we end each year of Follow the Money columns anticipating what content monetization trends will drive growth in the coming months. It doesn't seem as if there will be many surprises on this front in 2015 so much as there will be next major stages in models that have already been evolving for publishers. Overshadowing all of it is the unprecedented migration of user attention to devices. "Mobile first" is not a trend or a slogan. It is the reality of modern content.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2014 Issue, Posted Dec 03, 2014
When the story of digital media is analyzed by scholars in the coming decades, I expect they will locate the current mobile migration as a critical moment in communication history. This is when the final shreds of 20th-century mass media were shed. This is when media consumption was, at last, completely detached from predictable settings and circumstances. Personalized, on-demand, fully untethered devices radically disrupt a media and advertising ecology that, during a century, had targeted its wares at morning newspaper readers, radio-prime-time and drive-time listeners, TV-prime-time viewers, and web office/home hours, etc. Sometime in the early 21st century, historians will recount that context became a fluid, highly fragmented concept.
Column/Follow the Money - Posted Jul 15, 2014
There is a whiff of desperation to the web these days. You detect hints of it when you see click-bait headlines occur with more frequency higher up the online content tail. You can sniff it when increasingly weird and off-topic "recommended for you" articles occupy the sidebar to major news sites. Did that "secret to vanquishing belly fat" article/ad really have anything to do with the news piece on National Security Agency (NSA) security breaches? What algorithm sees the contextual relevance in that? If targeting technology has become as complex and sophisticated as we have all been reporting, then why is recommendation spam more the rule than the exception?
Column/Follow the Money - March 2014 Issue, Posted Mar 18, 2014
As has been the custom in this column since before I went gray, we end the year and our EContent 100 issue with a peek into the revenue-generating models that will dominate the coming year. Content is faced with an acute problem: The advertising support on which it counted is veering noticeably into marketing budgets and especially their own content projects. This has been a long time coming (a decade, in fact), but only now are we seeing publishers panic enough to commit to some radically different models or take the ones that have been out there for a while more seriously. A din of good and bad ideas rather than a clear direction is what we will get in 2014.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2013 Issue, Posted Dec 13, 2013
In her annual presentation on the state of the internet, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' analyst Mary Meeker teased out a single theme that will challenge content providers for another generation. The proliferation of devices in the last 5 or 6 years has created a massive new flow of data. But this time that data is coming more from the users than from traditional content providers. The amount of data being created and shared increased nine times in just 5 years to almost 2 zettabytes (or 2 trillion gigabytes) in 2011. That will increase to 5 zettabytes by 2015. The number of photos uploaded and shared each day has gone up from about 200 million in 2010 to more than 500 million (projected) per day this year.
Column/Follow the Money - September 2013 Issue, Posted Sep 17, 2013
Nearly a century ago, the first form of "mobile" advertising accompanied the first wave of modern American mobility: the car culture. The famous Burma-Shave sequential billboards peppered roadsides nationwide until the early 1960s, spacing small portions of a clever ad message at spots along the way (usually six in all) until the final kicker offered the sponsor name. Call it one of the first integrated ad units that conformed to the medium, highway driving and sightseeing.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2013 Issue, Posted May 28, 2013
Digital data has not only gotten "big," as we now put it. Data has gotten fast, unstructured, and overwhelming. According to IBM, 90% of the data in the world has been produced in just the past 2 years. Feeds from social media, offline transactions, user video and image posts, and more all converge into massive dashboards that give marketers and now publishers increasingly real-time, unmediated, and holistic views of the consumer. The big impact of Big Data is only beginning to be felt among content providers, but many in the industry see it as both a threat to the traditional ownership media companies had over audiences and an opportunity to reinvent content as data-driven products and services and to give a struggling media industry new business models.
Editorial/Feature - March 2013 Issue, Posted Mar 04, 2013
Around this time of year, it is our tradition to look forward to the "follow the money" trends that will matter in the coming year. But the velocity of the move to mobile platforms this past year-and the challenge of monetizing that platform-is so pressing, I thought this was a good year for this annual trends column to "go mobile" itself.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2013 Issue, Posted Feb 12, 2013
When they are off-mic and off the record, most publishing executives are getting increasingly frank about the mobile conundrum they face. The math just doesn't look good. Oh, the hordes are here. Of that there is no doubt. It is not uncommon for top media brands to report exponential spikes in the share of traffic coming to them from mobile devices in the last year.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2012 Issue, Posted Dec 18, 2012
One of the most important implications of Facebook's high-priced acquisition of mobile social photography app Instagram is the tacit admission that the social network was really a social network. The game-over thinking around Facebook, that it was the de facto social platform for the web, is an important fallacy to debunk. As one who has never been a fan of Facebook's ever-changing face, interface, privacy policies, and ad models, I admit to enjoying some of its recent missteps. From walls to timelines to sponsored stories, the company still feels like a cool lab experiment that isn't clear and stable enough in its mission to be a platform for anything but breathless coverage in the digital press.
Column/Follow the Money - September 2012 Issue, Posted Sep 18, 2012
Within the next few years, the post-PC world of connected devices is going to have as profound an effect on the buying and selling of goods in this country as the internet has had in the last decade. The velocity with which people are embracing m-commerce and now t-commerce (tapping buy buttons on tablets) is surprising even the cheerleaders of mobile media. Publishers, watch this space. Having your content on handsets and tablets could position your company to be at that lucrative point of sale (POS) in a way never before possible, largely because now the POS can be anywhere inspiration hits.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2012 Issue, Posted May 24, 2012
Digital old-timers may recall the three C's of successful online business models circa 2001. Content, Community, and Commerce appeared on just about any business plan that circulated in VC Land at the time. Understanding that the web was at least three channels at once (publishing, merchandising, and person-to-person communication) was considered essential to establishing unique business models. The problem at the time for most media sites was that all three C's were a bit broken. It has taken a decade, but the rise of online search along with Facebook and Twitter have helped content companies attack two of the three C's. And in the last year, we have seen a full program to get the Commerce piece up-to-speed as challenged media models look to ecommerce revenue streams. Skittishness about maintaining separation of editorial and commercial church and state is dissolving about as fast as company margins are.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2012 Issue, Posted Feb 14, 2012
Every year at this time we take a look downstream- revenue stream, that is. Nearly a decade ago when I started writing these annual forecasts of money-making propositions that looked to be promising in the months ahead, most publishers were looking to wring what they could from the desktop experience. But the story of 2011-2012 is content's migration to a host of new platforms and devices, each of which holds the promise (the promise, mind you) of altering the free-content models that bedeviled the web. Whether on or off the traditional web browser, many of the revenue-generating ideas are being influenced by a new age of apps.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2011 Issue, Posted Dec 06, 2011
Whether the future belongs to downloadable apps or web-based HTML5 sites, the fact of the matter is that the app sensibility born of widgets and the smartphone is going to inform the way in which digital content is built and distributed from now on. App design is already migrating from Apple and Android stores to the web. Just look at Google's Chrome Web Store and Apple's Mac App Store, where content providers such as USA TODAY and Slate essentially port their iPad versions back to the desktop. Just wait for the next wave of major website relaunches: You'll see how publishers are learning from the less cluttered and more immersive examples being set by the app experience.
Column/Follow the Money - September 2011 Issue, Posted Sep 12, 2011
My inbox runneth over with can't-miss bargain offers. I am not sure how many Groupon and LivingSocial daily deal lists I actually subscribed to, but each morning my inbox is stuffed with 50%-off offers for everything from massages to theater tickets in several nearby locales. Clearly, one of the most lucrative innovations in emarketing in recent years has been the group buying and daily deal model. When LivingSocial sold a $20 voucher from (one of its primary investors) for $10, 1.4 million people took the bait ... including me.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2011 Issue, Posted May 23, 2011
After a year of hand-wringing about how digital users must "learn to start paying for their content," we appear to be moving to a healthier and more mature place where publishers are starting to internalize, rather than externalize, the media revenue problem. At a recent conference that I organized for digital media strategies, publishers who are successfully selling content directly to businesses and consumers challenged their peers with a straightforward proposition.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2011 Issue, Posted Feb 09, 2011
As confidence builds in the economy generally (we hope) and a relentless move toward a digital media economy charges forward, here's where publishers should be looking for new opportunity in the coming year.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2010 Issue, Posted Nov 22, 2010
The predictable lament of digital publishing, "What will make them pay?" has gotten a fair airing all year on countless conference panels and in the business press. I keep hearing those dreaded terms "retraining consumers" and "reset the relationship with consumers." Well, all of that remains to be seen. I would recommend that publishers look closer to home when exploring paid models that work.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2010 Issue, Posted Nov 15, 2010
One of the curious things about romantic breakups is the way that former lovers suddenly turn on one another and seem blind to their former partner's good qualities. Something like that is happening in this much-hyped move off of the digital desktop and onto "consumer devices."
Column/Follow the Money - September 2010 Issue, Posted Sep 06, 2010
As we move into the second half of the year, we hear that many of the major news brands-such as The New York Times and, perhaps, even ABC News-are thinking of imposing new metered or pay wall ideas. This tiered approach appears to have made traction because many feel that making only the most frequent visitors pay for persistent access helps to identify the real brand loyalists whose recidivist behavior demonstrates the value they already place on your brand. But will it work for much more commodified content like most newspapers?
Column/Follow the Money - June 2010 Issue, Posted Jun 04, 2010
Selling goods and leveraging community will both be important to content providers moving forward, of course. But one long overdue goal of digital media, to "get beyond the banner," is going to be critical if traditional media want to retrieve the kinds of revenue many of them are losing in their offline properties. Ultimately, digital media really starts paying off for publishers when they get advertisers to spend more of their budgets online.
Column/Follow the Money - April 2010 Issue, Posted Apr 15, 2010
The question bellows this year from every podium, in every digital media conference panel, and in reams of articles. Will users finally start paying for their online content when so many alternatives crowd a search-driven, user-generated, all-you-can eat buffet of free? Well, we'll spare you the suspense. The short answer is: Online, users already pay for content.
Editorial/Feature - April 2010 Issue, Posted Apr 07, 2010
The 2009 shopping season will give the electronic publishing world its first indication of how consumers, schools, and businesses regard the wave of e-reader devices about to assault them.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2010 Issue, Posted Jan 29, 2010
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.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2009 Issue, Posted Nov 24, 2009
Lest we forget, it was just a couple of years ago that "free and ad-supported" was the refrain that drove the second digital go-go era after 2004. Apart from the recession, the big difference now is that the offline TV and print businesses that helped underwrite big media's digital pursuits are now under siege. The content-creation engines that built these brands seem to be threatened, and the digital platform is not really mature enough to support media-making as we have known it.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2009 Issue, Posted Nov 05, 2009
As we move into fall, the year-long revival of the paid content argument shows no sign of easing.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2009 Issue, Posted Oct 01, 2009
If memory serves, the digital revolution was offered up to us as a great new driver of efficiency. Even at the most basic level of owning a PC, we were told that these new machines would organize our records and even clarify our ways of thinking. Really? Has anyone looked behind my desk lately?
Column/Follow the Money - September 2009 Issue, Posted Sep 09, 2009
As I write this at the end of 1Q 2009, things look especially grim for business information on almost any platform. In print, across 200 B2B titles that ad auditing group IMS tracks, ad pages were down in January and February 28.3% from the same 2-month span in 2008.
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2009 Issue, Posted Jul 20, 2009
I am now living through the third wave of arguments for fee-based digital content models in the decade and a half I have covered the internet publishing world. The inevitable response to the dual forces of recessionary ad decline and the more tectonic and irreversible shift to digital has been: "Make 'em pay." Almost everyone on the consumer side of the fence is talking about "hybrid" models and "pay areas." It is hard to listen to such a conversation without someone dropping "the iTunes precedent" as an argument that both micropayment mechanisms and consumer attitudes have turned the corner on this issue. People are ready to underwrite the costly content industry. They see the ugly alternative (bad or shallow content), and they are more willing to put a cash value on digital media now.
Column/Follow the Money - June 2009 Issue, Posted Jun 03, 2009
No, this is not another column instructing publishers to extend their brands to mobile. I think that case has been made already to almost all parties on the consumer side and to an increasing number of business information providers. At this early stage, everyone's degree of commitment varies, of course, because no one really knows what sort of revenue streams will evolve. Some publishers just repurpose their RSS feeds for mobile access; others have third-party providers cherry-pick website content to reshape it for the small screen. It feels like 1997 all over again.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2009 Issue, Posted May 07, 2009
There is no getting around it. This column's moniker begs for a snarky retort in these dark times, so I may as well beat you to the punch line. By the time you read this, I expect that more than a few startups that made a big splash last year will be running out of cash, fading away, and/or selling out cheap.
Column/Follow the Money - April 2009 Issue, Posted Mar 30, 2009
As the eyes of old print, radio, and TV media turn to the internet for a bridge to take them across the current media business abyss, one troubling fact is becoming abundantly clear: The "real money" isn't there yet. Top executives at TV networks, magazine companies, and even newspapers have known for a while that on-air minutes and print pages sell at much higher rates and produce more revenue in most cases than even the most ambitious digital models.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2009 Issue, Posted Mar 05, 2009
From sloppy reporting to outright libel, not to mention web-speed requirements and confusing advertising placement. Journalism faces a slew of new challenges online. Can the old rules of media be applied? And if not, what is to become of journalistic ethics online?
Editorial/Feature - March 2009 Issue, Posted Mar 02, 2009
My column's moniker has a cruel irony to it this month as companies peer into the abyss of a business decline with no apparent bottom. Follow the Money only begs two questions nowadays: What money? Where do we follow it to? Like a fog-locked airport with a damaged radar dish, the emedia fleet feels grounded as we edge toward a wholly uncertain 2009.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2009 Issue, Posted Jan 28, 2009
Time once again to crawl out on that slippery limb encrusted with winter ice: the predictions branch. Above and beyond the expected recession woes, digital content is dangling over some sharp challenges in 2009, or at least it looks that way from my chilly perch. Look out below for falling commentators.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2008 Issue, Posted Dec 01, 2008
Take a closer look at Attributor Corp., one of the 12 companies that inspired the most banter among the EContent 100 judges during the voting process.
Editorial/Feature - December 2008 Issue, Posted Dec 01, 2008
Take a closer look at Ektron, Inc., one of the 12 companies that inspired the most banter among the EContent 100 judges during the voting process.
Editorial/Feature - December 2008 Issue, Posted Dec 01, 2008
The digital privacy battles now brewing in the House of Representatives and at the Federal Trade Commission finally woke the industry up to its complacency over this issue, but I think many publishers and ad networks proceeded to get up on the wrong side of the bed. The principals in the behavioral targeting industry, which is attracting much of the scrutiny now, seem to recognize that they must better explain their policies to consumers and assure all of us that they indeed are not collecting personally identifiable information (PII) when they track our movements around the internet. Ultimately, though, I think they woke up to the wrong issue.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2008 Issue, Posted Oct 13, 2008
Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves in the digital dreams business. We fantasize so extravagantly about the future shape of a technology that we miss some of its more relevant and mundane uses here and now. Take virtual worlds. Environments such as Second Life promised online immersion where realistic avatars moved through 3D space and ultimately enhanced everything from the media viewing experience to shopping.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2008 Issue, Posted Sep 19, 2008
Another day, another vertical. Earlier this year the press release mill worked overtime announcing that every imaginable media brand and ad entrepreneur was launching some sort of vertical network—either of content, ads, or (usually) both.
Column/Follow the Money - Sept 2008 Issue, Posted Aug 27, 2008
Is anyone making money on web video?" The publisher of one of the most popular and long-running video shows online recently posed that question to one of his peers and me. The other publisher, who is responsible for hundreds of hours of video content on her suite of branded media sites, just shook her head. "And anyone who tells you he is making money on video is lying," she contended.
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2008 Issue, Posted Jul 02, 2008
Cool gadgets alone do not change engrained media consumption habits. It took nearly 2 decades for PCs, broadband, and ease of use finally to converge to the point that Googling for the answer to anything became a reflex. Media change is a long, complex, and very unpredictable interplay of cultural, technological, and economic forces slowly transforming conventions over time. No single device is responsible for such shifts. They represent the accumulated energy of many confluent forces.
Column/Follow the Money - June 2008 Issue, Posted Jun 03, 2008
For the 15 years I have been writing about digital media, two media business models have been "about to break through any day now"
Column/Follow the Money - May 2008 Issue, Posted Apr 22, 2008
Controlled circulation trade pubs are now putting more of their print content online and uncontrolled for all to see, but despite the good press for "free" of late, the pay model is alive, even if it is struggling to find its proper place in an increasingly ad-driven digital media market.
Editorial/Feature - April 2008 Issue, Posted Apr 11, 2008
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gave the digital content industry a dubious present last Christmas. At the same time the FTC approved a merger of Google with ad network and services provider DoubleClick, it also lobbed the issue of privacy back over the net for the companies to solve. At issue for the first time in a very public way is a topic I have been writing about in these columns since 2002: behavioral targeting (aka BT).
Column/Follow the Money - April 2008 Issue, Posted Apr 01, 2008
I admit that I have been a longtime skeptical observer of the digital magazine format, although 6 or 7 years after its introduction the platform is getting some traction with readers and publishers. Generally designed as facsimiles of printed periodicals, the digi-mag always seemed to fill an unnecessary niche between old and new media, between physical magazines and websites. It has the interactivity and rich media potential of a digital product (hot links, embedded multimedia), but it retained the lush design sense of print. But was this a solution in search of a problem?
Column/Follow the Money - March 2008 Issue, Posted Feb 19, 2008
As most traditional publishers are painfully aware, digitization has a tendency to commodify everything in its reach. Just think how much of the content we paid for a decade ago—from newspapers to premium video and audio content—is available now at no cost online. From news to business information, phone calls to software applications, the new model is giving away the store in the hopes of making a profit in some other way. Most text and video content relies on advertising to pay its way now, while service-based products, like web applications and digital calling, put some limitations on the free offering in order to upsell a richer version.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2008 Issue, Posted Jan 29, 2008
Keeping with years of tradition, I always like to mark the EContent 100 issue with brash predictions about where publishers will start seeing some money or investment in the coming days. For 2007 my prognostications focused on the rising importance of content merchandising, the ad-supported mobile media model, increased emphasis on ad-targeting, and the possible (possible, mind you) revival of micro-payments. Boy, am I glad I hedged my bets.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2007 Issue, Posted Nov 15, 2007
Community is an organic phenomenon. You don't make it. You don't build it. At best, you cultivate it, and many publishers are finding it hard to break ground.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2007 Issue, Posted Nov 09, 2007
Vendors are coming out of the woodwork with all of these hosted and plug-in solutions that promise to build community on a site. Bosh. Community is not a commodity that can be manufactured, and it is not a technical issue in need of a solution.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2007 Issue, Posted Sep 28, 2007
The problem of video search has been waiting in the wings for a number of years now. True believers like Blinkx and Truveo (now part of AOL) were patiently experimenting with ways of indexing and tagging video assets long before the broadband penetration rates and usage curves supported it. During the last year, at YouTube, the dam has broken. People are starting to look for video in the same way they hunt for text.
Column/Follow the Money - September 2007 Issue, Posted Aug 24, 2007
Years ago, the CEO of a then-young video search firm insisted that some day soon everyone would need a query box to navigate the video records of their own lives. Video camera technology was becoming so cheap and light that many people would take to recording every moment and then dump it onto those equally cheap multi-terabyte hard drives at home. Facial recognition algorithms and speech-to-text operations would help you index everyday video so that you could query footage of grandma at your kid’s fourth birthday just as effectively as Googling a keyword to find articles.
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2007 Issue, Posted Jul 17, 2007
You and I may conceive of the digi-verse as something we access but for my teenage daughter Sam, it is more of a presence. With her WiFi network and laptop, the IM window always open, her social network of scores of contacts are like constant companions. The creaking door sound effect on AIM tells her when people are coming and going. For her peers, being online or offline seems like a distinction that sounds too technical for what they experience. For them, you are either here or away.
Column/Follow the Money - June 2007 Issue, Posted Jun 05, 2007
Business in the virtual world got very serious, very quickly in 2006. There have been a lot of false starts over the years. The massively multi-player gaming worlds like EverQuest and the eight-million strong World of Warcraft were always fascinating phenomena for their niche audiences, but they only made money for Sony and Blizzard/Vivendi, respectively, not for anyone else. Several things changed last year, however.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2007 Issue, Posted Apr 26, 2007
All I know about sprockets is that they figure prominently in the work life of George Jetson. I really don't know a sprocket from a cog, although I hear that competition between the two products is fierce…and often quite personal. Nevertheless, when I plug the term "sprocket" into the vertical search engine at, I get something that I am sure would make Cosmo G. Spacely gush.
Column/Behind the Firewall - April 2007 Issue, Posted Mar 27, 2007
As digitized content disperses, publishing brands and content wares splinter across countless platforms, devices, feeds, and syndication venues; the business and editorial infrastructure beneath it all, is fragmenting and reassembling just as quickly. The business models, like the content, are flying everywhere and the trick is to keep the overall vision on target, not just cope with content shrapnel.
Editorial/Feature - April 2007 Issue, Posted Mar 23, 2007
Buying traffic is the easy part. Keeping those eyeballs is where things get dicey. However, in the past year, I watched several consumer and B2B content brands ratchet up their traffic by double digits on a monthly basis.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2007 Issue, Posted Mar 01, 2007
Behavioral targeting is the hot topic this year among publishers and advertisers, and for good reason. I have been covering this approach to online advertising since core providers like Revenue Science and Tacoda emerged several years ago. The dark art of behavioral ad targeting (“BT” in the trade) started out as a hard sell because it was the kind of web technology that was difficult for clients to see in action and it relied on following users with ads in a way that feels a little creepy. BT may actually represent the natural evolution of interactive marketing, because it takes information from a user (her recent browsing patterns) and feeds back to her ads that are more relevant to her immediate needs and interests.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2007 Issue, Posted Jan 23, 2007
Perilous as it may seem, I will once again mark the EC100 issue with a look ahead to next year’s emerging revenue models, which we may well be calling old hat this time next year.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2006 Issue, Posted Nov 15, 2006
Want to give yourself a rude wake-up call about the harsh reality of brand value on the modern web? Try this: Make a personalized web page at Google or MyYahoo! composed of all the major RSS feeds from your site along with the feeds from content brands you consider competition.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2006 Issue, Posted Nov 14, 2006
Surely, the search paradigm has won the day as the de facto, undisputed interface for digitized content. Google and Yahoo! alone account for a one-third or more of traffic coming to many of the top branded content sites online. And yet, now at the top of their game, the major engines are looking outside the search box for future business strategies, from web services-based software applications to content creation.
Editorial/Feature - October 2006 Issue, Posted Oct 03, 2006
When Burger King was looking for an edgy way to promote itself among the coveted (nay, fetishized) young male demographic, it did the only thing a sensible old fart of a corporate entity can do when it struggles to be hip: it handed the camera to someone who really is, well, hip.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2006 Issue, Posted Sep 26, 2006
By the time you read this, Sprint Nextel customers will be getting their first taste of free mobile TV, and thus also tuning in to the real future of wireless content. The young male-oriented “Fast Lane” channel will have on-demand clips of tech reviews, poker tips, stand-up comedy, and all the other usual Spike TV/Maxim oafish male fare. It will also have ads, usually tucked as mid-roll breaks of 15 seconds or so. Yup, the free, ad-supported TV model is coming to mobile, and my guess is that it will proliferate quickly and accelerate the use of ad subsidies across all handset content.
Column/Follow the Money - September 2006 Issue, Posted Sep 05, 2006
All due respect to Wired editor Chris Sherman, but the currently hot topic of the internet’s “long tail” has been with us at least since I started writing about digital in 1995. To be sure, Sherman deserves the credit for bringing into focus for the post-bubble world the notion that the web makes viable niche markets and remnant inventories that could never find buyers in “real world” distribution and marketing systems, but this model has been part of the web equation since day one.
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2006 Issue, Posted Jul 11, 2006
As our content divides, sub-divides, and disperses like so many amoeba into the new digital mediaverse, anxiety must be running high among media companies. Ad dollars visibly drained from network television and print this past year, and most media budgets are fully in play now. Advertising allegiances are fluid, as big-brand accounts flip daily from agency to agency, and chief marketing officers warn the whole ad business that they better start coming up with answers to this growing problem of how to focus the scattering eyeballs of a fragmented landscape and deliver measurable results. Many in the media and ad industries are predicting doom, gloom, or at least a long passage through chaos.
Column/Follow the Money - June 2006 Issue, Posted Jun 19, 2006
Until I heard that preacher fart, I was never much of a believer in user-generated media. I don’t mean garden variety user-generated content (UGC), which embraces blogs, a few digital photo postings, and the endless scrolls of reader comments. I’ve always believed that community interaction is a more important part of the online mix than most traditional publishers admit. I’m talking about the more ambitious amateur media making, that vox populi revolution the Internet was supposed to spark. I was here in 1998 to see the crash and burn of so many attempts to organize garage bands and personal Webcam shows into populist big media rivals. The eternal democratic fantasy was that accessible digital media and free distribution would at long last unleash the people’s (always, the people’s) creativity in personal media-making.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2006 Issue, Posted May 02, 2006
Welcome to an on-demand nation, an emerging Web where users don’t just demand content, they also define its value in unanticipated ways. From the simplest of Web Services, RSS, to advanced database publishing and even APIs that let users drill into your content repository, the emerging service orientation model argues that users not only provide the demand for content but also provide its value.
Editorial/Feature - April 2006 Issue, Posted Apr 07, 2006
After so many lean years and post-bubble disgrace, it is hard to believe the gusher of ad dollars and profitability flowing to some segments online. A year ago I wrote about the industry’s need to wake up to the reality that the Web bounce back was for real. Now even I am a bit amazed at the sustained double-digit ad sales growth we are seeing. In fact, some sites are butting up against the limits of their own success with a problem most publishers would love to suffer—sold-out inventory
Column/Follow the Money - April 2006 Issue, Posted Apr 03, 2006
Sometime before the big Web bubble burst, a men’s media brand splashed itself online with an enormously ambitious content-rich portal. Prescient of the au courant mantra of “content, commerce, and community,” it innocently invited its beer-sodden, breast-gazing readership to participate in online forums. Well, within days all hell broke loose. The message base became a mosh pit as the readers extended the smirking, bawdy spirit of the host brand to misogynist extremes, making way-inappropriate comments about ex-girlfriends, models on the site, and women, generally. The site editors retreated quickly and simply shut the message boards down entirely within a few weeks.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2006 Issue, Posted Mar 03, 2006
Now that we’re more than a decade into the widespread use of email, the platform may not be in crisis so much as awash in mid-life ennui, suffering from middle-age spread and lacking the motivation to fix itself. The real answer may lie in learning to go with, rather than curtail, the flow.
Editorial/Feature - March 2006 Issue, Posted Mar 01, 2006
Two words: video podcasting. Go ahead and snicker, because a couple of months ago I would have smirked right along with you. Then I got me a video iPod. From a revenue perspective, what is most interesting about portable video is that, unlike other trendy forms of recent years (audio podcasting, blogs, RSS feeds), it arrives with a built-in revenue model. The advertising is already here.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2006 Issue, Posted Jan 20, 2006
It is now a tradition in the annual EContent 100 issue that we climb way out on a limb and anticipate promising new sources of revenue for the coming year. Even as 2005 closes, it is already clear that boatloads of money are about to start racing online, especially from big media TV and radio brands desperately chasing audiences that are fragmenting into smaller niches of personalized, on-demand media consumption. In past years, advertising drove many of the trends online, but this coming year much of the energy will be coming from the media industry itself as it tries to retool for an on-demand future.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2005 Issue, Posted Nov 16, 2005
Back in the day (in Internet years, that’s 1998) the term “coopetition” became one of the keywords of the dotcom revolution. The uniqueness of the Web link, the sheer interdependence of one site with another to push and pull eyeballs around this vast new terrain, made it imperative that rival publishers of content partner share traffic and often ad revenues. All boats will rise, they said. Fallen out of favor in the post-bubble years, “coopetition” is exactly what I see evolving in the complex search/content economy.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2005 Issue, Posted Nov 01, 2005
Admit it, you’re jealous. The massive bounce-back in online ad revenues in the past two years has been driven—nay, commandeered—by search. For all of the talk about the branding value of the Web, the fact is that highly targeted, performance-oriented, direct marketing at Google and Overture/Yahoo! has been at the heart of the boom. To be sure, contextual ad partnerships with the major engines offer content providers a sip from this revenue gusher, but it’s not the same thing as drinking directly from the new fountain of high-priced cost-per-click advertising. Pay-per-click search ad pricing is so high because the major engines are so close to the consumer’s purchase decision. From what I am seeing in the online ad market lately, fear and envy breed creativity.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2005 Issue, Posted Oct 10, 2005
After a decade of digital information overload—email, multimedia, and endless Web surfing—podcasting is starting to engage the enterprise because of its sheer simplicity. This is new technology that revives our appreciation of the oldest medium. Podcasting offers brief, regularly scheduled, and automated distribution of media that pokes through the digital noise with the most basic and compelling content delivery device of all, the human voice.
Editorial/Feature - October 2005 Issue, Posted Sep 27, 2005
The people who underwrite content (a.k.a. media buyers) speak about audience and media “fragmentation” as if it were nuclear proliferation, an insidious third world plot that needs to be contained or outsmarted. As eyeballs scatter to on-demand sources (DVRs, VOD, RSS, podcasts) and user-generated niches (blogs, social networking) the big question becomes how to “re-aggregate” these audiences with things like blog\pod\RSS ad networks that blast the same old message into these dispersed archipelagos of interest. The answer is...
Column/Follow the Money - September 2005 Issue, Posted Sep 12, 2005
If you are old enough to recall the crashes and burns of TheDen and, then you must join me in smirking at the current mania for Web video. A perfect storm has formed around the platform; media companies point to a “critical mass” in broadband penetration and anecdotes of massive video stream numbers, while advertisers desperately chase eyeballs as they flee primetime TV. But have we learned anything meaningful about Web video as a media platform or thought through the revenue models enough since that first disastrous run at Internet TV?
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2005 Issue, Posted Aug 10, 2005
I have urged major publishers to consider distributing content to the emerging mobile phone platforms. For all of the hype surrounding wireless (my own included), however, 2004 was not exactly the breakthrough year some had expected for mobile content. The fact is that U.S. customers are just getting their feet wet in premium mobile content compared to the faster buy-in from Europe and Asia. Part of this is a technology problem; but carriers and publishers also need to cultivate users more effectively than they have. Mobile content needs a jump-start.
Column/Follow the Money - June 2005 Issue, Posted May 10, 2005
What is most interesting about the rising tide of enterprise rich media use is how quickly companies incorporate audio and video into everyday business processes. Users are re-imagining multimedia’s functionality once it becomes as common and effortless a business tool as photo copiers and staplers.
Editorial/Feature - May 2005 Issue, Posted May 10, 2005
Let’s take the most lucrative sector of Web content during the last five years—search engines—and flip things around. Instead of using a search engine to sift through years of old data to find the piece you want, what if the data you need was searching for you? The concept of pushing timely, relevant information to a user is not new, of course. CBS MarketWatch and others have developed some excellent systems for notifying subscribers of breaking news, mainly through email and increasingly via RSS feeds for a kind of personalized wire service. Nevertheless, until now, most of these alert mechanisms have been brand-specific, limited to one delivery mechanism, or delivered only unwieldy gushers of headlines.
Column/Follow the Money - April 2005 Issue, Posted Apr 18, 2005
I have always admired online dieting company, in part because its success underscored important principles about how content makes money online. With 200,000 paid members at any one time (1.8 million total over its history), demonstrates that consumers will pay for sites that make content a service. By crafting genuine “plans” for dieting and backing them up with encouragement, 24/7 support, advisors, peer forums, and a ton of editorial, is more of a community than simply a site. The company hits all of the right e-revenue-generating notes. So I was taken aback when eDiets launched a series of online magazines.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2005 Issue, Posted Apr 06, 2005
I have been putting off writing this column for months, but I think it is time to come out and say it. Now is the time to ready your content for cell phone delivery. What seemed like a pipe dream of mobile telcos a year ago—getting people to draw down data and entertainment through their cell phones—is now close to the proverbial tipping point, and it is time for any recognizable content brand to stake a claim on the mobile phone frontier.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2005 Issue, Posted Mar 23, 2005
A year ago I would have said that the XML-based RSS protocol is still way too geeky for mainstream users, but RSS is catching on at a remarkable rate. The question is, how will content companies profit from its popularity?
Editorial/Feature - March 2005 Issue, Posted Mar 22, 2005
Content providers had better keep their eyes on this rapidly evolving sector. Search is becoming a lynchpin both of the Web economy and the way users navigate to your content.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2005 Issue, Posted Feb 23, 2005
It has taken nearly a decade for the vast majority of Web content to prove the old mantra that media money always follows the eyeballs, but it won’t take that long for Web logs to find reliable business models.
Editorial/Feature - January/February 2005 Issue, Posted Feb 16, 2005
I take pleasure in looking forward to the more promising new revenue streams (and trickles) of the coming year.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2004 Issue, Posted Nov 29, 2004
You may have heard me drone on that people will pay for content that facilitates connecting to others. Well that same principle is now being played out in another content area: online gaming.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2004 Issue, Posted Nov 10, 2004
There is no safe place left: Marketers chase our famously fragmented attention spans with whatever vehicle our eyes and ears might settle on, if only for a few moments; even the desktop is fair game.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2004 Issue, Posted Oct 06, 2004
New communication technologies interact with cultures in subtle ways. Publishing used to be a fairly top-down affair. But the Internet and email have permanently transformed that familiar relationship between readers and editors.
Column/Follow the Money - September 2004 Issue, Posted Sep 06, 2004
Just about every two years or so in the short, happy life of the Web we get word that the local online ad market is about to take, really this time.
Column/Follow the Money - July/August 2004 Issue, Posted Aug 11, 2004
For some reason, everyone in the industry is loathe to admit what the numbers clearly demonstrate: Web content—or at least some important sectors of the digital content economy—has waged a quiet but remarkable comeback.
Column/Follow the Money - June 2004 Issue, Posted Jun 08, 2004
Yes, companies have begun to see that premium must-have content will sell. But increasingly, consumers are starting to pay up for compelling, well-packaged “wanna-have” content.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2004 Issue, Posted May 11, 2004
According to many publishers large and small, the contextual ad programs set up by the major search engines and some other ad networks are spreading ad revenue wealth generously. But will it last?
Editorial/Feature - April 2004 Issue, Posted Apr 19, 2004
Early adopters of these behavioral tracking systems are discovering several ways in which the next evolution of ad technology gooses the bottom lin
Column/Follow the Money - April 2004 Issue, Posted Apr 16, 2004
Some lessons need to be repeated no matter how obvious they may appear. When it comes to online advertising effectiveness, the perennial lesson is that context is everything.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2004 Issue, Posted Mar 22, 2004
Psst! Wanna make some quick cash? Here, take these search engine text ads and run them next to some of your own relevant content.
Column/Follow the Money - January/February 2004 Issue, Posted Jan 01, 2004
It all sounds so familiar. If online users won’t buy content in the usual offline model of subscribing to individual titles, let’s try aggregating a number of top offline brands and sell ’em all for one low monthly price.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2003 Issue, Posted Nov 11, 2003
Online micropayment is an idea that just won’t die…nor will it quite come to life. While growing seven-fold in 2002, they still represent a mere 1% of online content revenues.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2003 Issue, Posted Oct 02, 2003
Gaming companies may have a thing or two to teach content companies about diversifying revenue streams and keeping paying customers satisfied.
Column/Follow the Money - August/September 2003 Issue, Posted Sep 08, 2003
One of the most maligned delivery systems from the early days of the over-hyped Web is ready for its second act…and this time it wants to pay its own way. Is push being pulled back into the digital delivery mix?
Editorial/Feature - July 2003 Issue, Posted Jul 20, 2003
The fact is that, especially in the U.S. market, wireless carriers are being extremely tight-lipped about how much even early adopters of next-gen cells are paying for premium content.
Column/Follow the Money - July 2003 Issue, Posted Jul 18, 2003
When EContent looked at P2P last year, much of P2P's promise for B2B was still only theoretical, but this year we were surprised to see how quickly a number of organizations are exploring various types of peer-to-peer content delivery for internal and business-to-business purposes.
Editorial/Feature - July 2003 Issue, Posted Jul 13, 2003
Now that household broadband penetration may be approaching 20% and much of at-work Web access already comes through fatter pipes, an old argument is being made anew: all media brands need to get a video component. Well, maybe.
Column/Follow the Money - June 2003 Issue, Posted Jun 19, 2003
Gathering market intelligence at a content site is one of those unkept promises of interactive publishing, a missing piece of the online business model that site owners like to speculate about but rarely pursue…until now.
Column/Follow the Money - May 2003 Issue, Posted May 19, 2003
We just might…just might, mind you…be turning the corner on the fee-based content model. Americans are starting to take to a fee-based online model, but not because Web publishers somehow succeeded in “retraining” users to “pay up.”
Column/Follow the Money - April 2003 Issue, Posted Apr 25, 2003
Whether online or off, content providers adore the subscription model…and for good reason. Getting a user to commit to content at a bundled price is about as sweet a transaction as one can imagine. Yet more efficient, “friction-less” micropayment systems—for vendors and consumers—could open up whole new revenue models.
Editorial/Feature - April 2003 Issue, Posted Apr 23, 2003
Along with online pet food sales and the paperless office, push technology was one of the Web’s early laughingstocks, but not so fast; the idea of feeding content to the desktop is worth another look.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2003 Issue, Posted Mar 01, 2003
While much of the content community continues to chase sponsor dollars by making ads bigger, louder, more animated, at least one provider understands the alternative Zen way: be there to deliver when the user needs you.
Column/Follow the Money - February 2003 Issue, Posted Feb 01, 2003
One evolving channel for digital content distribution, the digital magazine format, got serious in 2002, as users surprised even the digimag technology providers with their hunger for downloadable versions of print products.
Editorial/Feature - February 2003 Issue, Posted Feb 01, 2003
In what must be one of the best testaments to the enduring power of the much-maligned banner, purchases five to ten billion ad impressions a month…a strategy that works.
Column/Follow the Money - February 2003 Issue, Posted Feb 01, 2003
Column/Follow the Money - December 2002 Issue, Posted Dec 01, 2002
Column/Follow the Money - November 2002 Issue, Posted Nov 01, 2002
Audible has been prescient in understanding the inherent limitations of the Internet as a medium for consuming content.
Column/Follow the Money - October 2002 Issue, Posted Oct 01, 2002
Sarah Chubb has a unique "problem"...the sort more Web executives would like to have. She is running out of ad inventory. And the solution is simple, but few Web sites have been willing or able to realize it; the Internet allows publishers to sell advertising against users, not just against content.
Column/Follow the Money - September 2002 Issue, Posted Sep 01, 2002
Column/Follow the Money - August 2002 Issue, Posted Aug 01, 2002
Column/Follow the Money - June 2002 Issue, Posted Jun 01, 2002
Editorial/Feature - April 2002 Issue, Posted Apr 01, 2002
The Web is transforming the traditional publishing paradigm in a number of ways. Chief among them is the idea that online content has to become more service-oriented.
Column/Follow the Money - April 2002 Issue, Posted Apr 01, 2002
As other revenue streams dwindle for content publishers, many are revisiting the idea of selling branded merchandise via their sites, but this time they are going beyond slapping logos on coffee mugs and hoping for a sale.
Column/Follow the Money - March 2002 Issue, Posted Mar 01, 2002
With ad revenues flying south for the recession—where they join the still-vacationing venture capital dollars—publishers have had no choice but to make the one-time pipe dreams of fee-based revenue strategies into a business reality. In the last six months alone, major brands have rolled out premium services. Meanwhile, sites with existing premium areas have radically refocused their efforts behind the sub-wall. Conventional wisdom, always fickle under the best of circumstances, has shifted suddenly, and new strategies have emerged.
Editorial/Feature - February 2002 Issue, Posted Feb 01, 2002
Publishers are beginning to experiment more aggressively and creatively with selling their wares by the pound.
Column/Follow the Money - January 2002 Issue, Posted Jan 01, 2002
Online personal ads may be the hero for the Internet media sites looking for a new revenue source.
Column/Follow the Money - December 2001 Issue, Posted Dec 01, 2001
In the new Web video model, you make the video cheaply–very cheaply. Then you stop hallucinating that advertisers will underwrite this anytime soon.
Column/Follow the Money - November 2001 Issue, Posted Nov 01, 2001