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The Listener, not your Content, is the “Product”

The Atlantic recently posted a note on the slow death of the newspaper business, and one of the comments to that note was so perceptive (if not necessarily novel) that I thought I'd share it with you because it has consequences for the radio industry, too.

Wrote the commenter:

Newspapers were dying anyway but the Internet has hastened the process by exposing the newspapers lack of accountability.  The average schmuck buys a paper and sees it as a product designed to inform him, the customer, about the world around him/her. But in any financial transaction the customer is identified as the person who pays the money, and since newspapers only get 20% of revenue from subscribers this means the subscriber is not the “real” customer.  Newspapers get 80% of revenue from corporate advertisers, so they are the “real” customers. And since the corporate advertisers don’t take delivery of the newspapers it means the newspaper is not the real product. The real product is the reader, and the newspaper is just a medium (like radio waves or tv signals) that is used to “deliver” the real product (our eyeballs) to the real customers (corporate advertisers).  People are important in the newspaper financial model, just not in the way that they thought they were. With the Internet, you can have news websites that have zero corporate advertising, which means they are ACCOUNTABLE to the subscribers who donate to the site. This is why the newspapers can’t simply transfer their business model onto the web and hope to survive.  It’s not about technology. It’s all about accountability.

Again, it's not exactly news that the "real" customers to newspapers – or to radio – are the advertisers and the real product currently being offered up is not the content on the air but the ears listening to that content – ideally as many as possible for as long as possible.

But thinking about the flow of dollars this way has important consequences for our industry at a time when there's a sudden disconnect (as there is) between the volume of listeners we attract and the amount of money our customers (the advertisers) consider them worth.

And what it means in the final analysis is that we must provide layers of accountability which add value to our product (the ears or eyes our content generates).  That value, I must add (although it should be obvious) is in the eye of the customer (the advertiser), not in your eyes and mine.

It is not, in other words, about "monetizing our content" wherever that content may be found.  

It's about enhancing the value of our product (our audiences) to our customers (advertisers).

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