Felix Salmon offers good advice on the economics of chasing pageviews in the wake of Henry Blodget, owner of The Business Insider, firing editor John Carney for not generating enough of them.
Blodget should remind himself on a daily basis that publishers make money by selling readers, not adspace, and that if he’s going to make money, he’s going to have to do so by getting high-value readers that companies want to reach. At the moment, both Blodget and his advertisers are stuck in an increasingly out-of-date paradigm wherein pageviews serve as a proxy for readers, but today, unless you’re Demand Media or the like, that paradigm is doomed.
The job of the editorial side at TBI, then, should not be to maximize pageviews. Instead, it should be to create the best-quality content for the readers that Blodget wants: to build a large and loyal readership base which feels that it has a strong relationship with the site. Once the editorial side has built that readership, then it’s the job of the business side to monetize it. Yes, banner ads are one way of doing that — but they’re only one way of doing that, and they shouldn’t be allowed to determine the editorial mix to the detriment of editorial quality more generally.
Salmon is right, in the sense that creating reader loyalty will ultimately lead to something that can be monetized. How that happens, though, is anyone’s guess. Nick Denton, head of Gawker Media, is constantly tweaking his approach and whenever he does, it seems to leave people baffled. But there is always a concrete reason.
Content-wise, however, there really is no method to this madness. No one could predict that Lolcats would turn into a multi-site media empire, or that pictures of obese-causing food items would be a sensation.
Personally, I strive to just provide good content and when I think that content will interest other sites I like and read, I’ll send it off in the hopes that they’ll link to it. I don’t always mix it up well between sharing interesting links and writing longer content, but I try to.
Chasing pageviews in the name of a dollar is akin to ouroboros. But the reality is, if you plan on doing this as a business, you have to be cognizant of them. Still, would I rather have high pageview numbers or be considered relevant to the day’s conversation? I guess I’d rather have both, but the latter would be nice.