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Engagement holds the key for monetizing news

Mobile Marketer goes after CNN and the WSJ and criticizes them both for charging for their content. CNN charges $1.99 for their iPhone app, while the WSJ charges $2 per week for access to mobile news. The author in Mobile Marketer recommends one price for access to everything on offer from the media company.

This is of course not the only charging done. Most mobile operators source content from the very same organizations, and often charge users for access to this content.  In this regard, the mobile operator serves as an additional editorial layer, as generally users can easily access the news sites directly.  For instance, if you are on 3 in Australia, you can watch Sky News videos for $0.50 a video – or alternatively subscribe for $3/month. For Sky, this strategy makes sense because you cannot access Sky News in Australia on mobile otherwise (unless you have a data plan and watch the full site on your smartphone, but that is still only a small portion of the market). Look at their competitor ABC, and you can just browse their mobile site directly, which may make a user wonder why they have to pay on the operator’s portal (which of course is not ABC’s fault, but simply a disconnect with the operator’s charging models).

While CNN may beg to differ on the recommendations from Mobile Marketer, as their application is #1 on the paid news apps on iTunes, there are some recommendations worth noting from Mobile Marketer:

“Mobile phones have made it easier for consumer to share news stories via email, Facebook and Twitter feeds with their friends. However, it will be even harder for users to do that through Pay Heresites that require subscriptions or paid access.”

The sharing aspect cannot be ignored. As increasingly the entire web is becoming social, for a user where you access the news may be as important as from whom you get it from.  Besides the self promotional aspect of Twitter, it is for many simply a tool to access news about what goes on in an industry.  As time spent online grows, we will reach a point where “share of time” may be much more important than “share of wallet”, so to the extent that subscriptions limit the dispersed nature of today’s media consumption, charging for news (or other similar type of media), may just be a detriment for amassing readers.

Interestingly, Murdoch and others push hard for more subscription type of services. Clearly the jury is still out on the strategy on charging for content as far as the news organizations go. There does seem to be a strong belief that charging for mobile is appropriate.

Personally I think it is wrong to charge for mobile access unless you add value beyond what pure reading of the news can do.  If you start adding interactive capabilities, you can start providing value beyond what the web channel can do, simply because the mobile phone is the greatest interactive device you have.

The interaction – especially regards to news content – centers around engaging users in the content. With iReport, CNN has showed how basic services such as access to news can be blended with interactivity and engagement. And with the recent decision to integrate iReport to the overall CNN site, it also shows now that user engagement is becoming a key driver – and you can even get consumers to pay for the privilege.  No doubt CNN’s foray into involving their viewers is growing, with ABC’s recent announcement of hiring an entire team to train people in UGC.

Where CNN falls short with iReport is that it is a one way reporting tool (and of course only supports one handset as of yet). If you want to share your story, you will have to go to the web site and use the various share facilities. Here at Storyz, with our Storyz LiVE solution, we have integrated the sharing into the creation process – so when you as a user create your news story, you can invite your friends on email, Facebook, mobile and more – to actively participate in the news reporting process.  This is how you deliver true engagement and also ensure that the news stories can be accessed on multiple platforms – by choice of the users.

With this engagement also comes the ability to involve advertisers. For instance, you can have calls to action such as “show us what you do to save the environment” sponsored by Chevy Volt etc, alongside your news reporting assignments. Thereby you start creating new revenue streams, that spread across social networks – hopefully mitigating the need to charge for the content.

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