Giving Away Content, part II

On Monday evening, I asked readers about the concept of Giving Away Content. The response to the post was overwhelming. Over 150 comments, plus another 50 private emails from other bloggers.

Several other sites picked up the brouhaha. The Deal noted the discussion in their roll call; Abnormal Returns looked at the issue from the perspective of "Building a better aggregator;" Portfolio’s Felix Salmon also weighed in on the SEO issue (it was more than a few headlines, Felix); The site  Lee Distad’s professional opinion notes that getting paid in traffic is so very 1999. 

One of the few to notice that I hadn’t actually quit Seeking Alpha, but was merely mulling it over, was The Stalwart.

Finally, David Jackson, CEO of Seeking Alpha, made mention of my post as a leaping off point for discussing his business model: Blogonomics: The Seeking Alpha Model. Aside from blogosphere faux pas of mentioning but not linking to the original BP post, David’s comment is noteworthy for the positive comments he recieved from Seeking Alpha readers.

~~~

UPDATE: April 13, 2008 7:34am

Two clarifications for David Jackson:

A) I never stated I was pulling out of SA — I wrote I was reconsidering my relationship with you guys after the 3rd mangling of my content. While I determine what arrangement makes the most sense, and is also equitable for both sides, I halted SA from publishing my content.

B) I find your cash flow arguments about operating income versus expenses to be irrelevant at best and disingenuous at worst.

Why? SA is a start up, and the payout comes when the firm either gets bought or merged into another, larger firm. The house built on other people’s content may be looking at a huge payday somewhere down the road.

~~~

Far be it from me to give unsolicited advice (heh), but if I were running SA, I would effect 2 changes immediately:

1) I would reveal the ownership structure, VC investments, operating losses, traffic data.

2) I would pull a side 20% of the equity, and create an option pool for contributors.  It should vest after two or three years, and be based on the amount and traffic of written contributions. 

That would be an equitable solution in my eyes . . .

~~~

I am still mulling over what I want to do with SA, but it will clearly involve a change from the previous arrangement.

Thanks for all of the fabulous input from readers, and I always look forward to whatever else you have to add . . . 

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Chris Noyes commented on Apr 10

    Barry How about giving away the first book you write .

  2. josephcp commented on Apr 10

    I think it’s a little more nuanced than that.
    The question is NOT: Do you want Seeking Alpha’s traffic?
    The question is: Do you want Seeking Alpha’s readership?

    Traffic is really so 1999, because it’s more than just eyeballs. It’s about what kind of eyeballs you receive. I have no idea what type of person reads Seeking Alpha, but I know that should be the primary determinant. A collaborative web implies a two-way transaction. You post and we don’t just take — how does the readership help you and the world at large? Does it help foster community? Does it help your reputation amongst a respected group? Does it improve the discussion of ideas?

  3. Winston Munn commented on Apr 10

    Here’s an idea worthy of consideration: take all the ideas and seperate them by quality, timeliness, readability, length, and profit potential, then package those ideas into bond-like bundles….and then sell the bundles to investors, freeing up pixels for more ideas, more bundles, more investors, more, More, MOre, MORe MORE!!!

  4. Marcus Aurelius commented on Apr 10

    Okay:

    You have a supply of quality product (your original content).

    You bear the costs of producing your product (your time and expertise).

    You have a loyal customer base, as well as a good direct marketing program (mentions of your blog in your many media appearances and mentions/links to your site from readers and other blogs).

    You have an established brand, that has gained and continues to gain your product goodwill and market share over time.

    He has a primary demand for your content (his business model is a one stop shop for many products marketed to a market segment- a reseller or retailer, in essence).

    The advantage, to you, is that he ostensibly provides a secondary source of consumers (distribution channel) of your product. While he acts as a reseller of your product, but not your brand (unless the consumer links through to TBP, in which case, they can go direct to the producer, and bypass his site if your product meets their needs). If they consume your product, but are not subjected to your brand, or if they decline direct access to your product (no click through), it does squat for your primary business/product.

    In payment for your product (on the assumption that your hits go up as a result of the relationship), you licensed him the right to copy and reproduce your content under his banner as long as certain conditions were met (Walmart selling Nikes with the condition that Walmart use the Nike swash every time they showed/mentioned the Nike product in their stores and advertising). Other providers of similar products – Addidas – may or may not have the same agreement With Walmart. If they do, the Nike brand is equivalent to the Addidas brand in the eyes of the consumer, and only the Walmart brand is enhanced. You also run the risk that your brand becomes associated with inferior competing products – enhancing theirs, but diminishing yours.

    He has violated his license AND weakened your brand.

    You don’t need him, as your business model works quite well without the relationship.

    Quick and dirty, but I hope I’ve hit all of the points (whatever they are).

  5. nades commented on Apr 10

    Barry I was away durring this post so I didnt get to chime in….

    Two things from me…

    1. screw them, they’ve made their bed….

    2. I still think asshats is the funniest thing on the internet!

    Keep up the good work, love the site….

    ~n

  6. Marcus Aurelius commented on Apr 10

    Posted by: Chris Noyes | Apr 10, 2008 9:46:06 PM

    ____

    Barry does that every day.

    Counterintuitively, that’s what Bill Gates did with DOS, and it paved the way for the ubiquitous Windows. The analogy isn’t 1 to 1 (reading the first book wouldn’t necessarily lock you into reading the second or subsequent books), but it’s an interesting idea.

  7. Andy commented on Apr 10

    I am late to this, but this is the very reason why i use Google Reader, so that I can read what I want and not see the side-bar ads nor the variations of seekingalpha.com (which for awhileI read but then realized it was watering hole and not of much use to concentrate useful info)

  8. TexasHippie commented on Apr 10

    Does Google have traffic analysis technology to identify the source that is directing all the trolls here?

    josephcp suggested you should shape your readership, but perhaps you should focus on shaping the discussion forum, which is a major reason that I personally read your blog (too many great posters to thank). Meta-moderated forums do seem to work for smart, geeky groups – I’m sure you’ve seen Slashdot before. They tend to be good at drowning out the occasional demagogue to help maintain a sense of balance and a sense of humor. The overall biases and perspective remain mostly true to the content originator – you.

    Lucky for Barry, I can’t see that he’s attracted negative attention from those with the mental wherewithal to piss in our playground.

  9. wabrew commented on Apr 10

    I must live in a cave. I do not read (or use) the seekig Alpha site.

    I spend no more than 2 hours/day reading the wsj, IBD, and a few blogs – yours a couple of times a day.

    I guess I don’t even understand the issue.

    When I went to the SA asite a min ago, I had to go to bottom of page, click on contributitors, and then searh for your name. My first Q was “who are all these blogers”. I cannot imagine any of them are as good as yours. Who has the time to read all this stuff? – Almost all just report the news, few diagnose news as you do.

    Who needs them! Not you.

    BTW – Have you started on your book yet?

  10. Christopher commented on Apr 11

    Having read David’s post in SA, I now understand better the challenges that they have. Despite all these, I think SA is the best financial aggregator out there.

    That said, they need to manage the expectation of bloggers.

  11. Douglas Watts commented on Apr 11

    Seeking Alpha could always … erm … create and promote their own original content.

    That would solve the problem.

  12. KellyD3 commented on Apr 11

    Not to dump on David Jackson’s post but:

    1. At least 2 of the positive comments were from SeekingAlpha (SA) employees – a little tacky eh?
    2. SA’s only unique contribution is free conference call transcripts. As you had the guts to write on March 16, “I almost never speak to senior management, don’t listen to conference calls, don’t read press releases, don’t care what the CEO or CFO claim.” Is aggregation enough for a business model?
    3. SA has more than 1,300 contributors, adding over 100 each month. Are there really 1,300 “bloggers” (let alone analysts) with something useful to say? Quality not Quantity – WalMart vs. a boutique.
    4. Less than 10 contributors ceased publishing on SA in the 1st qtr. Quality/quantity issues again.
    5. With 40 people and still losing money, I can’t help but wonder what Benchmark’s (VC) exit strategy is for this one. They are not in this for the warm fuzzies.
    5. David Jackson has gone from a tech analyst to a money manager to a blogger (ETFs) to SA to Yahoo’s expert on green investing (Come to think of it, Yahoo’s expert on best stock blocks is SA’s editor in chief).

    Barry, I don’t give a FF whether you continue on SA (I read you here), but:

    1. Interesting that almost all of the reaction to your first post is to leave, and almost all of the comments to Jackson’s post are pro SA. Again, boutique vs. WalMart
    2. I noticed some bloggers who left SA left messages to your post. What do you think of their stuff?
    3. What’s the added value of SA to you? Does being “Seeking Alpha Certified” help you in any way? Does it help you being associated with 1,300 bloggers or is your focus more narrow?

    Thanks for the ride and best of luck!

  13. The Financial Philosopher commented on Apr 11

    Barry,

    As with investing, “perception is reality.” TBP readers perceive you as a leader who can’t be bought or sold and that your blogging purpose comes from your independent thought and energy to arrive at the truth while sharing that “truth” with others.

    I believe, that if you “strike a deal” with SA, the readers perception of you may change to something less than it is now.

    Personally, I like your “F everyone” attitude and would be majorly impressed if you dumped everyone and everything that does not play by the established rules…

    Alone you are stronger… “Divided” you are weaker…

  14. DaveM commented on Apr 11

    I’m way late joining this thread but TBP is a great blog and my perspective on the issue is different…so here it is…

    1. Social media is not a business platform nor does it even imply a workable business model

    2. The tendency for almost everyone to assume the same dynamics of the media business model applies, even as old media has been knocked on their ass for the past decade is something you see if you’ve worked in the media vertical…..but this is the case. Everything in the old media world is changing radically so why would the same business model concepts apply to social media? It is an incorrect assumption and even if there are some exceptions right now, in the long run social media will not be a business platform.

    3 Key point: The world of social media has completely disrupted the balance of supply and demand of content out there and in the process pretty much permanently changed the prospects for old and new media going forward.

    4. Social media is best seen as a good form of marketing in a new social dimension. If it helps your existing business then great, if it is your existing business, too bad for you.

    5. Pissing into this wind will only get your pants wet.

  15. OhNoNotAgain commented on Apr 11

    We run into the same issue with our software business. We sell and market all of our products online, therefore any catalog resellers that want a large chunk of the profits from each sale are of little value to us. They provide nothing of additional value besides printed catalogs, and frankly, I’m not real excited about selling software products to customers that don’t use the Internet or Google, Yahoo, etc. to find what they’re looking for. We use Google advertising and are in the top pages of Google for most applicable keyword searches for our software products. The key here is content, content, content.

    The bottom line is this – are they providing access to your content that people wouldn’t normally already find via a Google search or Google keyword advertising ? If not, then they are of no value to you. Furthermore, would you want such a search to be directed to their site instead of your site ? It would seem to me that this would be diluting your brand and content, not enhancing it.

  16. ef commented on Apr 12

    Interesting article on a similar topic:Is Content Worthless?

    You must be able to monitor the referring link, so you know how much traffic is coming from various locations (for me, Paul Krugman, NYT blog). It appears you have established a “brand” already that can stand on its own. I think personalization differentiates one from the crowd these days. People return here, and read this material, because of you. You = quality, experience, knowledge, integrity, straight-talk. People don’t have to question the author’s motives. What I’m trying to say, there is a whole lot of garbage out there, and aggregate sites tend to make everything equal. They are the “CDO’s” (repackaged, can’t tell the good from the bad) of the content world. I agree with the Google comment about search results and keywords.

    I’m not a fan of aggregate sites, with no valuable original content of their own, that take others’ content, and surround it with ads. I don’t want to reward the aggregate sites, just for collecting other people’s work. It is a different story, if those people write content for the site, like Huffingtonpost.com. In the end, I prefer quality over quantity.

  17. DaveM commented on Apr 13

    great link ef, thanks

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