Whether you are creating any form of content online (text, audio, images or video) or are simply consuming it, there is a huge cost to all of this free goodness.
On December 23rd, 2008 I posted a Blog entry titled, Breaking News On The Internet, where the question came up:
"Who is going to pay for all of this content that we are all now consuming online?"
That question could well be the crux of the problem most Marketers have with trying to figure out either how to monetize the Social Media channels or how to connect with consumers within it. The business behind most content has always been:
1. Advertising supported to make the content free.
2. Advertising supported to subsidize the cost.
3. Advertising-free with a cost.
Free without any form of advertising is only a business model if you can either sell and profit from the content (like a book) or if the media is being supported in another way (like government funding or private support). It's the way it has always been, so exploring new business models (see: Trading Analog Dollars For Digital Pennies) is a huge challenge for most companies. The other side of the coin is forgoing the idea of getting into these channels via advertising, and engaging in the concept of creating your own content and building your own community. Nothing builds loyalty like providing high quality content in a constant flow. These digital channels (be it a Blog, Podcast or online community) enable people to publish for free, but there is a huge cost. It's not just from the design, implementation, maintenance and hosting of the online channels (after all, if you don't want full control over the final product, there are many places that will give you the tools and the space to do it for free), but it's the creation, ideation and ongoing curating that is expensive.
Anybody can Blog, doesn't mean anybody should Blog.
Yes, the best part of these tools is that they are free and easy to use, but we all know the saying, "just because you can, does not mean that you should." On the personal or hobby side of things, Blog away, post away, tweet away. From a professional perspective, you need to have the content creators and a semi-well thought out plan in place if you really want to use these channels and tools to create a viable media property surrounding your brand, products and services. It's not as simple as freelancing the video out and it's way harder than hiring a writer to be your in-house Blogger.
There's probably a decent argument here that being able to publish for free has made the value of great content that much more valuable.
If everyone is publishing content across all platforms, who stands out? Clearly, the ones who are really being different, unique, creative and relevant. Finding the right people who "get it" and understand how the conversations flow, and how to keep them going is priceless. Figuring out how to take that channel and make it work - in terms of pure ROI and alignment with your overall business strategy - can't be cheap (or free)... and it shouldn't be.
What do you think: is content really free?