As AOL & News Corp spend big, is digital content finally worth something?
Internet watchers and experts are never shy of predicting the future, but are notoriously bad at getting it right. All it takes is for the latest big thing to come along and we immediately start announcing the death of a well known brand, the demise of a long established way of working or the start of an irresistible new trend.
We’ve all been there – it wasn’t so long ago when many commentators were predicting that ubiquitous email would mean the end for the postal system as we knew it within just a few years. For a while it seemed like a fair bet, but in many ways the Internet has ended up coming to the rescue of the Post Office in the UK – recently announced revenues of £9.4bn and profits up by 26% show just how important it remains.
The same argument goes for content, particularly when applied to print media – there has been almost constant talk about falling newspaper circulations and closures both nationally and regionally and just how difficult it has become to make any money from content, even at the mass market end of media industry.
But in the last couple of weeks we may have seen a real glimpse of the future for news media and digital content. Last week brought the launch of The Daily – Rupert Murdoch’s investment in portable digital news, positioned as the saviour of the newspaper industry. $30m is a lot to spend on a publication launch by anyone’s standards, so News Corp clearly see it as a good gamble. And hot off the press is AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post for an eye-watering $315million, turning AOL into a major media player virtually overnight thanks to its 25 million unique monthly visitors. It’s an important moment because as Wired and The Wall among many others have reported, it is a much, much bigger price tag than any previously paid for a blog.
So why the sudden rush to throw money at digital content, and how can we be any more certain that these developments really signal anything permanent? AOL hardly has a great track record when it comes to major acquisitions, after all. But one of the few points these stories have in common is their emphasis on quality/original content, community and social media, and that the publishing industry believes once more that one way or another, good quality content is king.
There is probably a lesson here for us all. While the technology trends come and go and the delivery method changes, in the end it’s good content which creates interest and demand. As the technology platforms and distribution methods turn us all into publishers we’d all do well to remember that.