Web publishers have built a new and unique business model in the past few years. In return for small sums of money and providing a venue for almost anyone to publish, they obtain fresh content without hiring authors as employees.
Hundreds of thousands of writers take advantage of this opportunity. Some are experienced and accomplished freelancers, others amateur writers looking for a quick and easy way to monetize a hobby.
Web publishers’ income is usually based on ad revenues, which limits how much they can pay for the submitted content. The following are some thoughts on how the synergy between web publishers and their authors can be optimized, providing the best return for both.
Alignment of Interests
Web publishers are for-profit companies. As such, their main purpose in life is to maximize their profits in any legal way possible. Some authors are happy simply to have a venue to publish their web content, even for little or no monetary compensation.
Other authors are good enough to command adequate compensation for their time, expertise, and creativeness. For the sake of this analysis, I’ll concentrate on the second group, who would not choose to volunteer their product to support a for-profit company.
Without fresh, high quality content, the web publisher would quickly wither on the vine. It is therefore in web publishers’ vital interest to retain the better authors, which implies adequate compensation. This provides the basis for an alignment of interest between the web publisher and its authors.
Opening Lines of Communication
Open lines of communication between the web publisher and its authors are crucial to promoting a feeling of partnership between the two. One possible way of achieving this is to provide a central page where the web publisher posts news of interest to authors. This could serve as a portal page for registered authors.
On such a page the web publisher can post lists of upcoming upgrades with estimated time-lines, issues and problems on which author input is requested, and policy changes being contemplated. This page could also be the primary method of serving notice to all authors of changes in policy that have been decided on, and when they’re expected to take effect.
In the other direction, communications from authors to the web publisher need to be monitored on an ongoing basis, with answers to personal issues handled via personal messages, while issues of wider interest are posted for all to see.
Improving Content Quality
With millions of published articles and growing by the minute, it is not at all simple and easy to weed out low quality content. However, that is exactly what would improve the reputation of any web publisher and the authors who publish on its site. This reputation is what helps get readers to click to the web publisher’s site when articles from that site show up on their Google search results page.
Currently, much of the content on web publisher sites is not of a quality inspiring casual visitors to browse beyond the initial article or to return in the future. Promoting higher quality content is of paramount importance for both web publishers and their authors.
A web publisher can improve its content by having its editors randomly visit existing content and rating articles for typographical and grammatical errors, poor flow and logical construction, as well as clear factual errors.
Content found to be of low quality can then be flagged, web access to it frozen, and the author asked to improve it. Wherever low quality content is found, that author’s other content should be evaluated carefully, and as appropriate, treated similarly.
Leaving poorly written content up on a web publisher’s site can and will garner some traffic in the short run, but in the long run this degrades the web publisher’s brand and will cost in traffic even for well written content on the site.
The random assessment process described above can also be used to flag, promote and reward authors for exceptionally well-written content. This can take the form of increased compensation per article for the specific article, for all current content, and/or for future content.
An exceptionally well written article provides much more than simply eyeballs on ads, which is what the author is already compensated for. Such content improves the web publisher’s brand and encourages casual readers to return in the future, as well as point their friends at the site as an interesting place to visit.
Rewarding Good Citizenship
Some authors become very active in the community of authors. These good citizens write content intended to help their fellow authors improve their skills. They respond to questions, provide feedback on improving proposed content, and in general weave the web publisher’s authors into a great community.
These special authors are a resource that others cannot do without. They thus contribute to the web publisher itself, through the alignment of interests mentioned above. This being the case, web publishers would do well to reward these contributors by both recognizing them and compensating them monetarily, possibly through an annual award.
Reading content on the web, I frequently find comments complimenting the author. These are certainly better than flaming, but one wonders why these are placed on the article rather than sent privately to the author. Comments such as “good job” or “great article” hardly provide much of use to the next reader.
Web publishers can (and some do) promote more thoughtful comments that enhance the content by giving registered authors who post a comment on someone else’s content a small portion of the income from those articles.
One easy way to do so is to use the same process of random assessment of existing content. While they assess articles that have already been posted, editors can tag such contributory comments. The web publisher can then reward the commenter with a small fraction of the income stream from the article they commented on.
In addition, a web publisher can allow readers who are not authors to register, and pay them when they leave thoughtful and interesting comments. This does not have to be based on the ad revenues from the article they commented on, but could be one-time payments of a few pennies per comment.
This could both enhance the value of the articles, and more importantly, add to the cohort of repeat readers. Ultimately, some of these registered readers could choose to become authors themselves, enhancing the community even further.
Rewarding Authors for Content Placed Outside the Web Publisher’s Own Site
When the web publisher is able to sell reprinting or reposting rights to some content to a different site, the author of the content should be adequately compensated. This can be done through whatever mechanism the web publisher is paid for the reposting rights.
Whether the payment to the web publisher is based on unique visits to the reposted content, conversion into sales, or simply on a one-time basis, a significant fraction of the payment should be sent to the author. Such practice would promote the notion of partnership between the web publisher and the author and may well encourage authors to write content that is more appealing to other sites.
Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive Content
Exclusive content is much more valuable for a web publisher than content users may easily find elsewhere. However, many of the better authors are reluctant to give up all rights to their content. To best address this, the web publisher can utilize a dual strategy.
First, to address those cases where the author is willing, any upfront payment offered for exclusivity needs to be significantly higher than for non-exclusive content. The easiest way to do this is by responding to non-exclusive submissions with dual offers.
One offer would respond to the non-exclusive submission, and a second, significantly higher offer can be made as inducement for the author to reconsider exclusivity. Where the difference in offers is sufficient, the author will likely reconsider and agree to sign over all rights.
Second, to mitigate the concern of competing sites obtaining the same content at the same time, the web publisher can make somewhat higher offers for content that is guaranteed not to be submitted elsewhere for a stated period, possibly a full year.
Those web publishers offering a fraction of ad revenue from the content can also offer a higher fraction for exclusive or temporarily exclusive submissions. Such practices are likely increase the fraction of content submitted under these options.
In all cases, the web publisher should always adhere to reasonable practices. Content should not be modified without the author’s approval. Content should be attributed to the author even if exclusive rights have been transferred. After all, the web publisher is in the business of selling ads, not writing content.
Showcasing Unique and High Quality Content
Each editor could be asked nominate for showcasing the top 1% of content they went through during the previous week. This showcase content can then be made prominent on the web publisher’s home page, and an archive of links would be easy to set up to make the best content easily found once it is replaced by fresher content of similar quality.
Such a setup would enable all authors to be considered for showcasing, and would result in the best of the best being given higher exposure. This higher visibility for the best content would also translate to improved branding for the web publisher in general, again underlining the alignment of interests between the publisher and its authors.
The Bottom Line
The best practices for web publishers are those that most closely align with its own the interests of the authors on which the web publisher builds its business. Open lines of communication further promote this alignment of interests. Culling low quality content and showcasing the best content will build up the web publisher’s brand and best reward the authors that make that brand possible.