(This is the second in a series of postings about citizen media business issues. See the introduction here. All of these entries are considered to be in “beta” and will be revised and refined as they find a home on a more permanent area of the Center for Citizen Media web site. To that end, your comments, additional examples, and criticisms are welcome and will be invaluable contributions to this process.)
The recent rise of citizen journalism owes a lot to the lowering cost and rising accessibility of the internet and online technologies. We’re at the point where many citizen journalist websites are increasingly difficult to distinguish from mainstream media sites in terms of presentation and quality of content.
While it may be free and require little effort to create a Blogger account and editorialize about topics that interest you, developing and maintaining a citizen journalism site like OhMyNews, SlashDot, Gotham Gazette, or H2o Town takes significant resources (whether it be money, time, or people). The question then becomes how to either make money or at least recoup the costs you incur.
There are several sources of revenue and business models available. While the best option for you may be the ubiquitous Google AdSense bar of text advertisements, there are many other options to be considered that may better suit your site and your readers. Maybe, for instance, you’d prefer to link your readers to Amazon, where they can pick up that spectacular documentary you were raving about or maybe your style is more conducive to offering cutely-branded t-shirts.
Before you decide on a particular model, take some time to consider what effects and implications each will bring. While a more detailed review and comparison will come after the individual discussions, there appear to be a few common factors to keep in mind. These core ethical and/or strategic themes will probably come as no surprise:
Trust – Long-term success depends on the trust of your readers, which doesn’t only relate to factual accuracy, honesty, and reliability. If your readers love your content but feel tricked, annoyed, or put off in some way by blatant money-making attempts, they might think twice about returning. Beyond simply getting people to return, trust also breeds referrals and links and therefore exponentially-increasing traffic. Trust is paramount.
Value – The best kind of revenue model is one that adds value to the reader’s experience. It provides an avenue for more information, a convenient link to buy something relevant, or perhaps a welcome deal on a product or service that the reader has interest in.
Creativity – Nobody wants to feel like a target market or a potential ad click. Anybody who has used the web to some extent knows how we subconsciously tune out certain types of marketing. Numerous studies have been done on optimizing advertisement space in terms of where people are most likely to look or click, but there’s something to be said for less-scientific creativity.
(Ryan McGrady is a new media graduate student at Emerson College where he is studying knowledge, identity, and ideas in the information age.)