The problem, as John Byrne sees it: Google and cookies. Google, he says, is “one giant transaction engine. Transactions are the enemy of relationships.” And “we are so cookied to death” that advertisers can find the demographic they want on cheap sites. “Why would you come to BusinessWeek and pay $40 CPM when you can find the same readers on Facebook for ten cents?”
Byrne admits BW can’t compete with the whole Internet on content, so they try to differentiate through engagement. “The secret of digital technology isn’t that you can do video, but that you can collaborate. Journalism has to become not a product but a process.”
Ways they’ve done this:
- They put a module on every page on the site called “In Your Face,” in which they harvest the best comments on the site and feature the reader on the homepage.
- BW.com’s “bribed” journalists to respond to readers by promising better exposure on the site if journos engage.
- They have a feature called “My Take” with essays from readers, but they don’t take any submissions. They find articulate readers who are leaving lots of comments and commission essays from them.
- The 100 “best” commenters last year were given T-shirts, the top 10 got a dinner.
Final thought: “You may believe in micropayments, you may believe in subscriptions. I think that’s true, but so much of journalism is commoditized today. But if you can’t prove to an advertiser that users on your site are deeply engaged with the content on your site, you won’t be able to charge a high CPM in the future.”