It is impossible to monetize content. Yes, really.

It is impossible to monetize content. All of the current models for attempting to do this are not actually doing this, and I would argue that everyone has been so blinded by buzz-words and concepts that they’ve failed to see what they’re doing.

If you don’t want to have the wool pulled away from your eyes, I recommend you bail now. 🙂 Oh look, here’s an inane book about cute kittens.

Content marketing is not the act of monetizing content

Content marketing is the biggest thing right now. Definitions for it vary, but the general take on things is that it is the distribution and use of things like blogs to engage people and hopefully drive meaningful sales.

The entire gig is based on providing a whole lot of valuable, relevant stuff. It’ll be so good, and tell such a great story, that your customers will wander past, become enamored with your campfire, and sit down and listen to everything you’ve got to say. And then they will part with their hard-earned for everything you try to sell them.

If you are great at this, you become a thought leader: Publishing, writing, and disseminating your word to the masses, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and a nice bank balance to match.

These people talk about the fact that they have managed to monetize their content, and that this is where their money comes from.

Sounds like fantasy? Good. Because it is.

Content always serves another master

Everything you think you know about monetizing content is bullshit. It is bullshit because content is always in service of something else. Always.

You feel like you’re making money from the content, but that’s because you’re not a content producer yourself. You’re a person in another business trying to achieve other ends.

You are getting your wires crossed. It’s ok, it’s probably not your fault. Blame the internet.

You are not monetizing content if:

  • You are earning passive income on an online course. You are educating people, and making money on the basis of that education.
  • You are publishing any kind of magazine and selling a subscription. You are entertaining people, and making money on the basis of that entertainment.
  • You are a publisher of any kind of news service, and selling a subscription on any kind of model – including a freemium model. You are informing people, and making money on the basis of that information.
  • You run a blog or business or [insert thing here] and charge a fee to get access to an entertaining or informative article (just like a publisher). You are entertaining or informing people and they pay for the privilege.

In fact, my argument is that everyone has this wrong. You are all thinking about whole, paper-oriented products. You are not thinking about content.

You see, when you sell education, information, articles, blogs, reviews, books, recipes, blah blah blah blah blah… you are selling whole pieces. Whole things. Items that can be printed, shared, saved. If the internet did not exist, you would still be selling them, just in a different format.

You do not have a business model built on the content. You have a business model based on education, retail, or some other business service. And yes, if you are a publisher (books, magazines, apps), then you are in retail. It might be entertainment retail, but it’s still retail. News publishing (whether in apps or websites or physical papers) is still selling a subscription to a publication, which is still retail of a whole publication.

Membership sites have caused people to forget this. They actually haven’t been around that long, guys.

When you sell the content, then you monetize it

So, if you are following the jam-packed, noise-producing bandwagon, I have just broken your world view. Right now you are confused. You’re thinking that it’s the same thing.

It’s not.

Monetizing content is me selling you this paragraph, and you using it for whatever you want to use it, in any form, in any format, in any configuration. That’s actually what monetizing content is. It is selling a piece of actual content (not the whole article, which is a whole lot of content strung together to create a discrete item), and making money on the chunks.

Content strategists talk about chunkifying content all the goddamned time. We talk about content systems that allow you to define, categorise, structure chunks and use those to create other things. In a chunkified system, you can take a bunch of paragraphs on a bunch of things and recreate them in all sorts of ways: From blog articles to news; from whitepapers to education; from tweets to whole web pages.

Therefore, when you say you’re selling a course, and call that content monetization, I call bullshit. Same if you have a freemium model or a subscription model. You aren’t making money on your content; you’re making money on your publication. Then, good sir, you are a publisher, not a content salesman.

Try selling people one paragraph. It doesn’t work.

It’s like charging people to see your posts in a social network. It’s a model that would need to smash (not just disrupt) existing notions of value, sale, and publishing.

And so, stop talking about monetizing content. Or at least, get honest about it in your conversation. Your content is working in service of something else, some other goal. You’re not selling what you’re writing. Not really.

You could argue that content writers who charge by the word have found a way to monetize content. But then I would argue back that they’re not selling content. They’re selling whole items comprised of chunks of content. And we’re back to the beginning.

Monetizing content is impossible. And I look forward to when all of the noise around content marketing, based on irredeemably incorrect definitions and limited substance, finally goes away.

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