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What the paid content debate means for communications pros

Photo courtesy of wwarby via Flickr

Photo courtesy of wwarby via Flickr

“When you bump into a wall, you tend to go elsewhere,” wrote David Carr in the New York Times this week, discussing Rupert Murdoch’s recent proclamation that News Corp. will charge for content on all of its news Web sites. Regardless of what declining advertising revenues, both in print and online, mean for the media industry, its ensuing move toward charging for content has huge ramifications for communications professionals seeking the greatest impact for their brands.

Social metrics like inbound links now serve as a gauge of whether a Web property is easily accessible from other online destinations, and whether users care enough about its content to share it and comment on it. That means widely accepted ideas about which media properties offer public relations professionals the greatest impact have become antiquated.

Take an “old media” example: most PR pros would consider a mention in the Wall Street Journal to be more valuable than a mention in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. After all, the Star Tribune has a regional print circulation of around 320,000, while the Journal has a national circulation over 2 million. Similarly, the Journal’s online version has more visitors than the Minneapolis newspaper’s. But sites that place much of their content behind a “pay wall”, as the WSJ does, put themselves at a disadvantage in attracting new visitors: bloggers, tweeters and other online influencers are far less likely to link to content behind a pay wall. That explains why the Star Tribune attracts more inbound links than the Journal’s online offering, according to Yahoo. Those links bring people to the site who don’t necessarily live in Minneapolis or visit the Star Tribune’s site regularly, but instead stumble upon the paper’s content on occasion because it’s relevant to their interests.

As more news sites begin charging for content, will they create fiefdoms where only dedicated readers venture, in contrast to the wide open Web of today, connected by hundreds of millions of links? That would require a new way of thinking about which sites have the broadest reach.

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