Monetising future content

I was at the Future of Media Summit 08 on Tuesday and one of the discussion groups I attended focused on business models going forward as media organisations attempted to rationalise the continued breakdown of their traditional content models.

The move away from subscription-based and ‘pay for content’ systems was questioned as potentially due to a weakness in current technology, rather than an intrinsic and systemic change in the media environment and consumer needs.

Dr Stephen Hollings, CEO of News Digital Careers, asked whether the internet simply had not delivered the right form of micro-payment system that provided the required flexibility to all parties.

This is an important question. In a modern environment of information overload, will participants (and by this I mean those who read, interact and give feedback to media and content providers through comments, uploads and other connections – as outlined by Chris Saad in his presentation at the Summit) ever pay for anything again? Commentators cast the digital generations as having shorter attention spans, wanting greater diversity of views and perspectives, shorter pithier articles, videos and audio pieces. In short, they want to consume smaller things more ravenously – and be acknowledged for their contribution to the cycle of creation. This new media momentum is not stopping.

If this is true, complete subscriptions to publications of which few articles are read will be a hard-sell to participants who surf the web or, rather, take feeds from multitudinous sources to aggregators like Google Reader.

In the absence of an adequate micro-payments system, is advertising the only real source of revenue for online content creators? And if so, how do we organise ourselves into powerful engaging entities that will deliver relevant, salient information to transient participants and what will be the acceptable formats for advertisers?

(Update: Ross Dawson, who organised the comprehensive trans-Pacific Future of Media Summit, has just posted a list of 16 blogs covering the event.)