Sell the experience, not the content

What makes your news organization unique?

What makes your readers WANT to go to you for their information?

In today’s world, the content that made you the go-to place for readers is no longer unique. Thanks to Google and non-traditional competitors both small and large (think AOL’s Patch), your content is fighting with others to command readers’ attention. And in most cases,  your good name just isn’t enough to draw on anymore.

As I’ve mentioned before, what is missing in online news is the “experience” of finding and absorbing news.  With print, generations enjoyed the tactile feel of paper, the smell of the ink, the ability to sort out sections on the floor and read at your pace and choosing, the ability to find something new while looking for something else. What is missing on the web sites is that ability to create similar experience. We can offer more through videos, visual galleries, searches, etc., but — let’s face it — web structure was never designed to mimic the print experience … and that includes PDF versions of the printed page.

But the development of the iPad and the expected introduction of similar tablet devices in the future, the opportunity presents itself for news organizations to once again create an “experience” current and future generations can pick up and enjoy … if you know what to do with it.

We’re already seeing some development towards that. Sports Illustrated’s iPad app — while not at the standard set with the company’s tablet demo unveiled last year — provides a user experience not found on its other platforms. MLB.com offers a fantastic user experience, and New York Times is starting to pick up on it with its iPad app.

Keep in mind the content found in all three of these applications can be found elsewhere, either in print or on their web sites, through RSS feeds or search engines, or as in the case of MLB, through other media channels like television and  radio. The content itself is not unique, so why would people be willing to pay $4.99 a month and up for these applications?

Simple: these sites are an experience to the user. Some of the things they offer:

1. User preferences: The sites target a specific crowd, so the interest is already inherent in the user. They also allow the user to customize the experience, allowing to rearrange and prioritize the site to the unique user’s interests. In effect, the user becomes the editor and picks what he wants and how he wants it.

2. Interactivity: They take the user to a level unavailable elsewhere. The ability not only to interact with the organization, but with other users as well. They can communicate and share with users within the app’s distribution group, as well as their common-interest communities through social networking.

3. Convenience: Again,  the content can be obtained through various other means, but the apps provide a convenient conduit to channel this information.

4. Sensory: The apps utilize functions that treat the sensory levels of the user.  The user can touch, view,  listen and utilize his cognitive skills while moving through the app.

It’s how you use these and other features that make your organization’s platform unique, and if your readers appreciate it, they will be more than likely to pay for it.

As the news industry creeps closer to pay-for-view, it’s imperative to realize that readers will resist having to pay for something that has been free … and especially if they can find similar information from other sources. If you are planning that route, give your readers a reason to come to their site. Your content isn’t enough anymore.

Remember, walls turn away people. Experiences draw them in.

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