Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Monetizing Online Contents: Is It a Qualitative or a Quantitative Matter?

I admit--I am a podcast freak. Every night I dutifully download from iTunes to my iPod the most current podcast broadcasts from a pre-selected list of sites. I then spend the better part of an hour in the morning (in conjunction with my morning walk), and a similar amount of time on the bus ride home, listening to these broadcasts. At the top of my list are the economic and business-focused podcasts offered by Bloomberg Radio, orchestrated by the dynamic force of its primary interviewer. While most of these podcasts are shortened from the full-length version of the original radio broadcast, sufficient content and elegant editing made the offerings a perfect fit for my morning and evening listening habits.

However, those days may be coming to an end. Starting at the beginning of this week, Bloomberg seems to be offering one of two choices. Either subscribe to a so-called "premium" service, which entitles the listener to access to the original, full-length broadcasts in exchange for a yearly fee, or be satisfied with only a series of short snippets, a mere fraction of not only the length of the original broadcast but the typical length of the edited item prior to the introduction of the premium service as well. (The "premium" service also promises a number of additional contents, presumably available only to podcast subscribers.)

In so doing, Bloomberg appears to betting that it has found a winning formula for that most elusive of challenges--how to monetize contents available online. Bloomberg is seeking to so by changing the behaviour of its listeners, whereby it is attempting to induce people to pay for contents that were previously available free of charge. While I can sympathize with Bloomberg's desire to find new sources of income, particularly in the online space, nevertheless, permit me to voice my reservations about this scheme.

My reservations do not derive so much from the prospect of being asked to now pay for online contents (I would prefer not to pay, but I am prepared to do so if I believe that I will receive a commensurate benefit.) Rather my puzzlement centres on the why Bloomberg believes it can attract me to sign up for contents which, in the aggregate, are less attractive for my personal use than were the contents prior to the change.

Think about it: the attraction of the contents in the old regime were not simply that they were available for free, but that they were edited in such a way that made them a perfect fit to my morning and evening schedules. In other words, I was drawn to the podcasts precisely because they were a shortened form of the original radio broadcasts. Recalling the old saying, "I did not have enough time to write you a short letter so I wrote you a long one", it was the editing function that turned these contents into a desirable user experience. Without wishing to sound trite, the fact that "less was more" was crucial.

Where Did That User Experience Go?

The new premium podcast service has turned the user experience of these broadcasts on its head. In so doing, has taken the position that monetizing contents online, by moving from a free to a subscription model, is a quantitative, rather than a qualitative, matter. Speaking for myself, I don't get the commercial logic.

After all, if I want to listen to the full-length broadcast (which, crucially, I do not), I can do so for free by listening to the original radio broadcasts. No special effort is required by Bloomberg to enable me to do store and listen to these broadcasts on my MP3 player. As I noted, the value-added experience under the previous arrangement lay in the editing of the contents. I would have thought, therefore, that Bloomberg's challenge would be to convince me to begin to pay for this user experience.It may come as a surprise, but I so much valued this user experience that I would have been willing to pay for it, even if had been previously offered for free. But I was never given this opportunity.

Instead, Bloomberg is trying to convince me to sign up simply because they offer me more contents that were previously available. If before, "less was more", as a qualitative matter, the current offer is that "more is less", as a quantitative matter. I assume that Bloomberg has done its marketing homework and that it is convinced that it will commercially succeed in this move. If so, it will may mark a major turning point in the monetizing of online contents. Perhaps--but not for me, I suspect.

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