Saturday, December 2, 2006

By the Numbers: Top Magazines and Newspapers Lag in Integrating User Content with Core Editorial Assets

paidContent.org pulls a handy chart from the recent Bivings Report on the degree to which user-oriented content technologies and features have been implemented via the top 50 online newspaper and magazine Web sites. It's a very telling summary of the attitudes that media companies have towards users and their ability to contribute to content value - and their willingness to invest in effective user content. The key factor that emerges from the report is that magazines are far less aggressive than news sites in implementing Web 2.0 content technologies and more resistant to exposing content outside of registration access. Newspapers have made remarkable progress in using certain technologies - 78 percent cited use of RSS feeds, 92 percent weblogs, 78 percent comments on reporter weblogs and 64 percent using message boards - but a scant 8 percent allowing comments on non-weblog articles. None of the publishers surveyed were using ads in RSS feeds.

The strong presence of weblogs and feeds for newspapers is encouraging but it appears as if concerns about content licensing and channel management are keeping some of the most valuable options on ice. With news being syndicated via so many different channels, why would a news publisher miss an opportunity to make their own version of an article more rich and unique through user comments? Through weblogs news desks are reaching out with new content, but my isolating their core editorial content from user comments they are perpetuating an isolation of mainstream news from public opinion that is making many news sources less respected and trusted. Journalists are still resisting joining the conversation of Content Nation.

The complete absence of ads in RSS feeds is not altogether surprising - its use is still fairly limited for most news and magazine organizations, primarily for sending out headline links to bring a user back to a portal - but it's also telling that media companies are having a hard time adjusting to user-managed syndication as a monetization opportunity.

But by far the most disappointing performance is with magazines, for which fewer than half have even managed to put out creaky old message board technology. Good magazines are built around serving focused communities: why would magazines not want to be as aggressive as possible in serving conversations within those communities? This fear of interaction with users within a mainstream editorial environment seems to be highly counterintuitive to what's needed to build up a magazine's value.

Many forecasts are calling for tough sledding for media companies in 2007: with a relative lack of features to connect audiences with the core content of newspapers and magazines in more interactive and user-oriented environments there's a good reason to think that this will come to pass. There's a virtually infinite inventory of Web content chasing a relatively finite inventory of ads, advertisers and subscribers. Why would media companies not do everything in their control to ensure that their content will be as unique as possible for their advertisers? Why bother with going through a registration process when one can find near-substitute content elsewhere? Unique user content can make the difference in convincing people to "join the club." Traditional editorial value is certainly part of the content quality equation, but without far more aggressive adoption of user-generated content features and distribution it's hard to imagine that the best advertising opportunities will continue to go to mainstream outlets indefinitely.
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