Why Do People Consume Content? How to Distribute and Monetize Effectively?

There is a lot of debate lately about the right business model for news content. Ad supported models are failing for various reasons and some publications are seeing success with paid subscriptions. Here I have categorised various forms of content based on why it is consumed and how best it can be distributed and monetized. Please see the chart below. The rest of the article only tries to advocate the chart.

How to monetize content effectively
Click to expand

Here’s a look at different reasons why people consume content online. See details in the chart above.

  1. Utility – You already know a specific question. You are looking for an answer. To save time and/or money.
  2. Hope – You don’t know the question but you will know when you find a good answer. Gives you hope of being smarter, instills long term pride. Most non-fiction books and business tycoon blogs fall in this space. There is some shareability in such content.
  3. Porn – There are no questions. There are no answers. It generally has no takeaway but it instills some emotion like envy, nostalgia or anger, which is short lived. Quantity rather than quality should be the focus here. It has to be new for the consumer, irrespective of when it was produced. This is just like real porn that instills momentary lust but has no value after you have (s)wiped off. Such content has high shareability due to the emotion it triggers.
  4. Professional Utility – This is a mix of Utility and Hope. It revolves around consuming content around your specific profession. This content is partially actionable for the consumer but is not an answer to any specific question. Industry journals fall in this category.

Same content could be packaged in different ways for different audience.

  • Reading about the price of a newly launched iPhone is porn.
  • When you are looking to buy it, is utility.
  • An iPhone seller would need to subscribe to price change alerts, serving professional utility.
  • A consumer brand owner might read about the price change pattern in the hope of understanding the strategy.

Some Examples to Understand the Context of the chart above:

  1. One would subscribe to Scoopwhoop or Buzzfeed on Facebook but would you subscribe to it over email? May be not. How often would their article land on a search engine result page when you are searching something? Not enough to make them survive.
  2. A price action movement in stock price for a stock trader needs to be reported instantly (Professional Utility). But if you are just drooling over a 40% price jump news for a tech stock IPO, you are most likely just reading for orgasm, hence it’s a porn content. You were never really searching for that content.
  3. Inside.com does a great job of category specific news digest emails. Most of the content they serve has low shelf life hence they do not write but just curate the content.   
  4. Skift.com for travel industry is a great professional utility content. Similar to Medianama for digital media in India. Most of their content has short shelf life but is important for their specific industry.
  5. Subscribing to the-ken.com is hoping to become smarter. It doesn’t serve a particular industry but their articles cover some nuances of doing business in general. Subscribing to Naval Ravikant on twitter serves a similar purpose, hence we might even buy his quotes packaged as a book.
  6. A how-to site wikihow.com would serve limited purpose to subscribe on twitter or FB but do great if it shows up on Google’s result page.

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