As the world of online content publishing evolves, a lot of discussion focuses on the competition between mainstream media publishers and internet bloggers. Many analysts and pundits debate which current business models (if any) will allow mainstream news publishers such as the New York Times to be profitable in an area where content is cheap and abundant, but online advertising revenue is relatively meager.
This New York Times piece frames the situation well. Many large media outlets are considering some form of subscription-based model to monetize their content. But framing the discussion in terms of "old-line media" versus "new blogger" misses another parallel trend that may be just as important -- the evolving business models for publishing by bloggers and freelance writers themselves.
This website, Infobarrel, is itself part of the new trend
towards the aggregation of content.
Whereas previously a new blogger might hang their own shingle by
starting their own blog, maybe using Wordpress or Blogger, aggregated content sites
offer a number of advantages, at least to new bloggers and freelance
writers. First, and perhaps most
important, these websites take advantage of the fact that the amount of traffic
to a given website has a large influence on the search engine ranking of an
article. Therefore, by aggregating
their articles together with others' writings, a new writer might rank higher
in search engines than if they relied on their own website. This is
of course an over-generalization, as individual websites in various
circumstances can do just as well or better than an article placed on a larger
website. But the high traffic rank of
an aggregated content site can offer a new writer some headwind towards greater
search engine traffic, all else equal.
The downside of an aggregated content site versus an individual blog is obviously that the site will take a portion of the ad revenue earnings generated by the writer's article. However, this may be more than offset by the other advantages. First, the writers do not have to worry about web hosting or other costs associated with blog design and maintenance. Second, the writer also does not have to worry about issues such as ad placement -- ad layout and placement issues can be handled (and hopefully optimized) by the aggregated content site operator. This leaves the writer with more time to focus on what they are presumably best at: creating content. Third, if the aggregated content site does offer better search engine rankings, then the monetary cut taken by the site can be more than offset by the additional views generated for the writer.
What I am personally interested in is how this marketplace will evolve over the next few years. As more aggregated content sites sprout up across the internet, and more writers attempt to write with search engine results in mind, it seems only natural that there will be a marketplace reaction. Aggregated content publishing 2.0 will likely be distinguished by sites trying to build their own brands instead of just page views. Various methods of editorial review and acceptance of articles prior to publication will evolve. This is especially true if internet searchers (and the search engines themselves) grow more savvy and pay more granulated attention to the domain name of a search result. Either way, the evolving methods of internet publishing offer freelance writers more opportunities than ever before. Garrison Keillor may lament this, but I think it is a great opportunity for both content publishers and readers alike. The key will be to continuously evolve methods of separating high quality content from the increasing internet background noise.