Saturday, June 12, 2010

Audience versus traffic: A parable

Let’s consider the arcane world of Internet traffic versus Internet audience.

Come on, stay with me here. What we at the Post Register aim to achieve is attracting an online audience to complement our print readership. Most web sites are still stuck on “driving traffic,” whatever that means.

I hope to simplify this with a parable.

Let's say you're a singer. You're reasonably well-known around town but no one's heard of you elsewhere. You'd like to make a little money and become better known.

So, you set up in a nice city park and start to play. You don't open your guitar case so people can toss in a quarter or a dollar -- people are used to hearing music in the park for free, after all. Over time, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people walk by, some glancing over as they pass; a handful stops and listens for a moment before moving on.

You've agreed with a local guitar store to put a sign next to you advertising the store, and you'll get a nickel for everyone who comes in and says they saw your sign and a dollar for each of those people who buys a guitar. Over a year's time you earn $2.75.

At the end of each evening, you've entertained some folks and probably had a nice time, but you're no closer to paying your bills. You do this every night for a year, and you're still no closer. In fact, you've spent time that could have been used in more profitable pursuits. It's entirely possible that you've hurt your own opportunity to record and sell some CDs because everyone in town knows they can go to the park and hear you for free. Probably not, though, since you haven't really honed your craft enough to cause someone to spend money listening to your music.

That's traffic.

Your girlfriend, meanwhile, has practiced hard and long, developing a repertoire of original songs, plus some covers of classics. She's got a small backup band of good musicians. They don't have aspirations to travel the globe, but they do want to supplement their day-job income with a little money on the side.

So, they rent a small venue and, having developed a local following over the years, sell some tickets and put on a show. They even sign up a restaurant as a co-sponsor, which helps defray some of the cost. The restaurant hands out coupons at the door for a free appetizer. A couple hundred people show up, paying 10 bucks apiece, and it's a great show.

During intermission, some merchandise is sold, including snacks and drinks, and she gets a cut. She clears several hundred dollars, each band member gets $150, and everyone goes home happy. She can't make a living this way, but she can earn a little spending money. And, who knows, maybe one day she'll catch on and she'll be able to quit her nine-to-five.

That's audience.

One is a potential business model, one is not.

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