The 4:45 AM departure from home last Sunday was not a barrel of fun but the flight to San Francisco was uneventful and was followed by a visit with Mediazone in Palo Alto where they were having a management conference.
Mediazone is an extremely interesting company that I was not previously familiar with. They are based in Palo Alto but are owned by a company called Naspers — a $2.6 billion media giant in South Africa (a part of the world I had been fortunate enough to visit in March). Mediazone creates and operates a set of targeted social media destinations, centered on passionate audience interests that incorporate a rich set of video, audio, text, community and interactive user controls.
An example would be their RugbyZone — if you like Rugby you would surely love RugbyZone. This is just one of Mediazone’s highly targeted segments of content. They don’t try to be all things to all people but they do go very deep in their specific "vertical" segments such as Rugby, Motorcross, Wimbledon Live, and IndyCar. I have always believed that other than perhaps Google, specialized web sites have the most to offer. Ten years ago I was an advisory board member at space.com and we found tremendous interest on the part of "space junkies". People who care about a narrow segment tend to be deeply interested. They are willing to register and participate in the community of users and generate content themselves. The challenge is how to make money at facilitating the community and providing high-value content.
The answer is elusive and nobody has cracked the code just yet. The Wall Street Journal has a subscription model where subscribers pay $99 per year. They have unique content and a broad array of tools and content creditability. Most sites are not able to command such a fee. The dominant model today is advertising wherein sites are able to get a premium fee from the advertisers who want to reach a targeted audience. Someone selling rugby shoes is presumably willing to pay more for an ad at RugbyZone than for an ad at a "horizontal" site which may have more visitors but not the narrow interest. Another model is Weather Underground. For an annual fee of $10 you get a version of the site that has much less advertising. In other words you pay to not get advertising. I don’t claim to have the answer but my advice on the topic is always the same — offer great service and offer choices. A membership site might charge $69 per year for a standard subscription, $89, for an "ad free" version, and $29 for subscribers who are willing to accept unlimited advertising and provide profile information about their desires. When combined with great service, careful listening to the feedback, trying new models, and iterating quickly the result will be the highest possible odds of finding the right model.
On from Palo Alto to San Francisco on Southwest (possibly the best airline in operation in the states) to San Diego to join the opening reception at Demo.