Friday, April 8, 2011

Start-Up Watch COD: Solve Media helps consumers “pay” with attention instead of cash

Publishers need to get more money for the content that they produce. A good deal more. While the concept of an entirely ad supported content ecosystem was and is appealing, it is also unrealistic. We see it in the number of newspapers that have folded in the US, despite seeing significant gains in online traffic. The problem is that it takes a jillion banner ad views to make up for every full page ad lost.

And yet research shows over and over and over that many consumers are as yet unwilling to pay for content online. And on some level, why should this be surprising? With literally millions of websites delivering content, people have a knack for finding info in new places when their go-to locations start charging.

The most shocking factoid on this front came when New York Newsday announced that – three months after they put up a pay wall around their content (!) -- they had only 35 subscribers. For those who don’t know, Newsday is a giant newspaper in the NY area, primarily serving Long Island. Everyone expected a significant drop in page views after the wall went up. But only 35 subscribers? That’s selling one sub about every three days.

So clearly, if content is to flourish in the months and years ahead, pubs need new ways to monetize their stories. Solve Media, a start-up I’ve written about before, has such a model. They help pubs deploy something they call “Type-Ins” both as a replacement for Captchas on forms, and as an access method for content.

The Captcha replacement is best illustrated with a picture, so that’s just what I’m gonna do.

Pretty clear, huh? Instead of trying to decipher often illegible Captchas, the consumer is asked to look at a special ad unit (gif, flash, and now even video) and type in the brand message. Generally it’s easier to figure out what to type with one of these units – they are particularly better with weak vision. Proprietary Solve Media technology makes them just as secure from a bot-reading-them perspective as a tough Captcha display.

Type-Ins are sold on a Cost Per Engagement basis, which makes them solidly lucrative for a pub while also benefitting advertisers in that a correct type-in guarantees that the consumer has examined and processed the creative message.

Their video will help make the value prop even clearer:

Solve Media from Solve Media on Vimeo.

A second use is even more interesting. Instead of charging a monthly sub, or deploying a cost-per-article-read micropayments scheme, a pub can deploy Type-Ins as a pay wall alternative that gives consumers the opportunity to pay for content with their attention to an advertiser message. Pubs get a healthy cost per, and the advertiser gets incredible noticing value and impact.

How incredible? A Wharton School of Business study (published in the IJIMC) showed a 111 percent higher level of brand recall from Type-Ins Wharton School of Business study versus banners, and 12 times the level of message recall. Further, it appears that people are at least as likely to complete a Type-In versus a Captcha in order to get what they seek.

I like Solve for a couple of reasons, and I should also make it clear to you that my company thinks enough of the concept that we are an investor. So take my endorsement for what you will. But even if we weren’t an investor, the dead simple value proposition here is one of those things that I could kick myself for not thinking of first. We’ve used it for clients and it has blown the doors off metrics, with nary a consumer complaint.

And as a means of helping pubs make some money from frugal users that resist paying for content, it may well be a great asset to their revenue models.

There are a few naysayers for this model, who believe that this ad format is essentially too intrusive. I understand their concern but could not disagree more. I really believe that we are in a challenging time as far as ensuring a great flow of content goes. If pubs cannot earn more, we will quickly see a significant drop of what I think of as real content – thoughtful, professional stories that keep people well informed.

UGC is great, really great, but I want reasonably compensated professional content-makin’ people covering the Watergates of our times. I’m OK with a little intrusion (ahem, like the network TV model) if it means that the web can continue to grow as a vibrant information and attention resource for people. An affordable one to boot. My guess is that pubs will be offering multiple ways to pay in the future. And if I know ‘Merica, there are gonna be loads of people who prefer paying with attention.

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