Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pay per performance

There has been quite a stir in certain quarters caused by this account of my PPA panel appearance on Tuesday. The main thrust of the furore (if I may call it that - storm in a teacup may be more accurate) is that paying journalists for page inpressions they generate inevitably leads to lowest-common-denominator journalism which will undermine the credibility and ultimately the very existence of specialist b2b websites.

Clearly, if any pay for performance scheme were ever to be implemented in a blanket fashion that very well might be the result - which, for the record, would be a bad thing!

However, in an online world where attention is firstly more valued and more difficult to get, and secondly increasingly measurable it surely comes as no surprise that questions about how to maximise it arise from time to time.

Leaving aside the somewhat dramatic "RBI contemplates pay-for-performance pay for journalists" headline (which conjours up images of the company's top brass locked in a room thrashing out time-and-motion plans for journalists - which, again, for the record did not happen, I assure you) there are clearly some audience-building activities which are more valuable than others in attention terms. Finding ways to maximise them is therefore a worthwhile goal.

But there are lots of subtleties: some audiences are smaller than others but may be more valuable; some types of customer are more prone to consume the web than others; some subjects respond better to SEO than others. And there may be altogether different reasons for wanting particular types of coverage to appear, other than naked traffic. For all these reasons, and many others, I doubt that pay-for-performance schemes will be seen in mainstream publishers for a very long time, if ever.

But characterising the debate about optimisation as an inevitable dumbing down does not further the argument much.

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