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Bandwidth Caps, Paywalls and Content Marketing

I wanted to go with a sensational headline like “The End of Free Content?” but that is irrational and wildly incorrect. There will always be free content, specifically valuable from a content marketing standpoint, available online in varying degrees of usefulness and quality. More to the point, content was never truly 100% free to begin with. There are monthly access charges, data plans and the opportunity costs associated with any activity. However, there are two current trends that are shaping, and possibly threatening, the content landscape online as we know it today: pay-walls and usage limits/bandwidth caps. These two changes mean the creation of value could become an increasingly important factor in driving customers to interact with your digital content.

Pay walls have been the dream of publishers pretty much since day one, however implementing them have been a nightmare. For those unfamiliar with the terms, it basically means you have to pay to access content online, just like you would if you were to buy a newspaper or magazine from a newsstand. The publishing and digital world have been watching The New York Times latest paywall structure (previous attempts ranged from unsuccessful to very unsuccessful) with great interest. As I am writing this reports are coming in that NYTimes.com has seen a 15% drop in traffic since the paywall went up. Paywalls will remain the primary concern of the publishing world but could have impacts on other areas of web-content and most content marketers.

The other attack, usage limits, is a little more nebulous but also potentially much more dangerous. AT&T has recently been testing a 150GB monthly limit for their at-home DSL customers, not simply on their 3G network. Comcast has already had a 250GB monthly limit and charge premiums or throttle (slow down) connection speeds of “excessive” users.

Now these limits may seem high, and it’s true that most people do not come close to hitting 150GB of data a month. AT&T says only 2% of their subscribers would be affected, but as this funny, though NSFW, article says “Have you ever known a company content to only make money off of the top 2% of their users?”

Two things will happen in the coming years: 1) these monthly limits will include more tiers and decrease and 2) your personal monthly bandwidth usage will increase. With gaming, streaming movies and multiple family members all drawing from the same well there is potential for people to become much more discerning with the content they consumer online.

So what does this mean for content marketers? It means that for the first time since AOL was sending out 1000 Free Internet Hours CDs in the mail, people will be really thinking about their usage, putting an added demand of value on content that was not there before. Not only could these have implications as to how much people may be willing to consume on the internet, but what types of messages with which they will engage.  It won’t mean much for Twitter feeds and Facebook updates, but what about websites with dynamic content, image slideshows or a video of a new product or service? Now they will no longer be putting up simply their time and attention as a commodity, but other limited resources like data and money if they go over their allotment.

Raidious operates with having a strategy directed toward content and not platforms that will leave us flexible to any changes in user behavior. Though, as ISP rules and agreements change we too must be aware of how the content we are creating is adding significant value and designed properly to not use unnecessary bandwidth. Content marketing strategy does not live in a static world, it is constantly shifting and having a strategy in place that can anticipate technology and human behavior changes is critical to seeing success.

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