Killing the Golden Goose, a modern media parable

the goose that laid the golden eggsLocal media websites regularly employ tactics that put revenue above users, and this is a much bigger deal than we realize.

Let’s review. Local media, feeling the disruption to its core business, reaches out into the Web for new revenue opportunities. Experts are assembled for white board sessions about “monetizing content.” After all, that’s our business, we think. The experts show us everybody else, because, well, we want to do what everybody else is doing right? They must know something we don’t know, and we can’t let that happen.

So we build websites that extend our brand to the Web, and we put our “content” out there. Size matters (for advertisers), right? So the experts tell us that we need as many page views as possible, for the advertisers like LOTS of page views. After operating for so many years as master manipulators of mass audiences, the experts tell us that we can do the same online, so we think, “Gosh, this is easy. I can turn one-story/one-page view into one-story/four-page views, simply by breaking a story into many parts.”

We smile and go our way, waiting for those big checks to arrive.

Not once do we talk to the people actually using our sites, except to ask them what they will “tolerate” (my favorite word).

We discover that the vast majority of our online users are those who engage with our legacy property. We’re serving our own audience. They like us already.

We make some money, but nothing approaching our hearts desire. As the years pass, however, we’re aware of the importance of this thing called “new media” but seem unable to grow audience around our brand. What gives, we ask?

And yet, we continue to shove reach/frequency tactics down the throats of our users, because, well, that’s what everybody does. Our need for page views pushes us to switch from breaking stories into four pieces to breaking stories into five. And still, we don’t actually talk to users.

Enough review. You get my drift. It’s called the “price of interaction”  — what we charge our users to participate with us online. The higher the price, the less appealing we are, and so we have a problem. And this problem is going to get worse as the shift to real time for news accelerates.

Somehow, some way, we’ve got to figure out that attaching ads to content the way we’ve done it before just doesn’t cut it online. Until that happens, we’ll continue killing the goose that potentially could be laying golden eggs for us.


  1. I like the way you put this. My thinking has been moving away from simply finding a way to do “local media” on-line and more towards how to help the traditional media companies transform their business. For many TM companies they built business models around dominance of a transport mechanism (radio waves, paper) that was based on a limited competition (broadcast) or high cost of entry (paper). The business model has become dependent on that captive audience.

    The Internet provides an unlimited number of distribution opportunities and the audience gets to self select to quality and convenience. This will require the TM to move back to a place of quality and learn how to make money when they don’t control the distribution transport. This is an old fashion business transformation. All aspects of the current TM business need to be evaluated and changed.

    That can be a daunting proposition but there are plenty of organizations rising to the challenge. To your point, if the challenge is simply approached as how do I get more page views then there is little focus on transforming the business. If the challenge is viewed as how do I change my business to address the changes in my audience and advertisers behavior, then there is a good likelihood of success.

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