How To Monetize Curated Content

Business models and monetization approaches for those who collect and organize existing information resources.

Content curation can be a socially valuable as well as an economically sustainable, if not altogether profitable, activity.


When making a choice, choosing a solution, a product or a tool, if there are too many available choices, we find it hard to select.

On the other hand, when there are few, selected options, and there’s someone expert who we trust that explains their value to us, we are instead much more inclined to pick one.

In a system where there are huge quantities of apparently alternative options, there is always the opportunity to organize, pick and select groups of items based on specific needs, requirements, objectives, costs as well as on many other variables.

Even the simple, intelligent, aggregation of all existing resources in a specific interest area (better if for a specific use / application / audience) provides a good enough resource that can increase visibility, reputation and which can also provide economic returns (through advertising or other monetization approaches — see examples further down).

Better yet, those who can provide expert trusted advice (based on expertise, authority, credibility) in situations where there are large number of alternative options available, have a valuable, sellable asset, that can save people great amounts of time while providing them with an effective and immediate solution to their needs.


The Value of Curation

Image credit: Vladimir Kudinov

The key to monetizing curated content is to collect and organize information in a very specific niche and, whenever possible, for a specific audience and application.

The more specific a collection is, the easier it should be to monetize it, as this is where Google, Amazon and other large providers, cannot really compete with subject-matter specialists or communities of passionate users.

One apparent characterizing trait of commercially viable curated collections is that, often, a large part of the collection is publicly shared, for free.

Freely sharing high-value curated information collections provides credibility, authority, reputation and visibility to the curator/ author/ publisher who is not already a well-known authority in his sector, and these are a set of vital, necessary elements, for effective monetization.

As a matter of fact, by publicly sharing curated info-collections curators can tangibly showcase their expertise, competence and experience with the subject matter at hand.

They can do so by not just aggregating anything that fits their theme, but by picking and selecting with high rigor only what fits their well-defined (and possibly publicly shared) selection criteria.

They can do so also by way of how they organize and group information items in their collections, by the depth and value of their opinion and commentary, as well as by the format and layout they use to arrange and display their sets.

By publishing high-value curated news streams and information collections a curator / publisher highlights and publicly defines the information landscape he wants to cover and the depth at which he is willing to go.


The key values that content curators can leverage in making their collections economically sustainable, rather than just “pretty” or “unique”, are:

  • the amount of time they actually save to their readers in finding what they are looking for (super-large collections that are not well organized and easy to navigate do not qualify)
  • the quality of the resources and information they have put together 
    (collecting and amassing tons of shallow and not-verified content produces opposite results: loss of credibility, authority and reputation)
  • insight, guidance and advice in helping readers make sense of the information provided (aggregation provides value but nearly not as much as selection and focused commentary).
  • transparency. The clearer the profile, beliefs, background and ethics of the curator(s) / publisher the easier and faster it is for the reader to decide whether to trust him and how much value to attribute to him. Anonymous curation doesn’t inspire trust, because a key context element is missing.

But not any curated content can be monetized. The characterizing traits of high-value curated content are also defined by:

  • Strong Focus: Curated content must have a very specific focus and a similarly highly focussed target use / application.
  • Reliability: Curated content must be properly vetted and thoroughly verified.
  • Organization: Curated content must be well organized into sets, groups, categories with appropriate, with understandable labels and descriptions.
  • Accessibility: Curated content must be formatted and designed as to make it as readable, accessible and as browsable, navigable, and searchable as it can be.
  • Uniqueness: Curated content collections must be unique, in the way they select, present or provide access to their curated sets.
  • Reputation: Curated content worth of this name must be curated by a subject-matter expert with plenty of experience, credibility, authority and reputation in the specific sector.
  • Up-to-date: Curated content collections need to be updated and verified periodically especially when the information items being collected are vulnerable to become outdated, disappear, be dismissed, or to deep changes.

All curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.Benedict Evans



23 Real-World Examples of Content Curation Monetized

Image credit: Veeterzy

To give an idea of the different monetization approaches that can be utilized in synergy with a digital curation effort, I am listing here a set of 22 web services / startups / websites that are able to make a revenue by collecting, organizing and adding value to existing information.

For each one I provide a short description, the business model(s) used, and, where possible, credit to the curators and links to find further info about the monetization approach used.

You may not always agree with my criteria for including some websites that do more of an aggregation than a curation job, but I feel, that at least for now, they still stand as good examples of this emerging trend.

These companies do not produce or create new content. They create sellable value by organizing existing information.

*(feel free to suggest other great examples that should be listed here.)

News

Web sites and services that aggregate, collect and organize news and stories according to a specific theme, audience, need.

All of the top technology and VC news of the day and who is talking about them in a one page news hub. Curated by algorithms and human editors.

Monetizes via: Sponsored stories, Jobs for hire, Tech events
see: http://techmeme.com/sponsor
see also: Mediagazer, Memeorandum, WeSmirch


Publishes 200+ vertical industry newsletters offering a comprehensive daily digest of the most relevant and timely industry news in each sector covered. Smartbriefs newsletters are written by subject matter experts in partnership with leading trade associations and professional societies.

Monetizes via: Sponsorships, Display ads, Sponsored stories, Jobs for hire
see: http://smartbrief.com/about/advertising


Summarizes all the top news of the day in a five-minute email digest distributed at 7am every morning. iOS and Android app. 
(Curators:
Beniamino Pagliaro, Piero Vietti, Stefania Chiale, Valentina Ravizza, Davide Lessi, Nicola Imberti, Clara Attene.)

Monetizes via: Monthly subscriptions.


Learning

Web services that collect, aggregate, organize, and present already available information about learning/teaching/education resources.

Makes it easy to find the best free university courses online from top colleges.

Monetizes via: Certifications.


Organizes free and paid available online courses into specialty learning paths.

Monetizes via: Mentoring.


Aggregates and organizes thousands of courses and learning platforms, while helping to curate learning paths and track any new learning experience across providers and services. Free for individuals. Paid for organizations.

Monetizes via: Business subscriptions.


Makes it easy to find the best free online courses from 250+ universities.

Monetizes via: Commissions on paid courses


Curates “learning tracks” made up of both free and paid online courses for individuals interested in digital careers. (Curators: Paal Ringstad and Sidney Cohen)

Monetizes via: Commissions on paid courses.


Business Information

Web publishers and services that collect, organize, analyze, review and present information about present-day business trends, strategies, models.

Analyzes present-day events, products and news to anticipate future consumer trends and preferences.

Monetizes via: Premium Subscriptions (provides access to Reports, Data, Tools and more)
see: http://trendwatching.com/premium/pricing/


Analyzes present day events, issues, news and products to anticipate future consumer trends, preferences and opportunity areas for innovation. 
(Curator:
Jeremy Gutsche)

Monetizes via: Subscriptions (access to Premium Content), Reports, Books, Events, Speaking
see: 
http://www.trendhunter.com/plans
http://www.trendreports.com/
http://www.trendhunter.com/best-innovation-books
http://www.jeremygutsche.com/
http://www.futurefestival.com/


Collects and organizes world best companies business models and related info.

Monetizes via: Access subscriptions, Training workshops, Courses, Publications
see: 
https://businessmodelgallery.com/packages/ 
https://businessmodelgallery.com/learning-and-teaching/


Software

Web sites that collect, organize and preserve free software tools according to specific audience and need.

Collects, organizes, preserves and makes available to the public at large all discontinued versions of free software for PC, Mac, Linux, Games, Android.

Monetizes via: Advertising (Google AdSense)


Collects, organizes and makes available for download the latest version of best, hand-picked software tools for Mac and PC and the latest web apps.

Monetizes via: Advertising (Google AdSense)
see: http://mac.filehorse.com/advertise/


Films — Documentaries

Websites that gather, organize and curate collections best films and documentaries.

Collects, reviews and organizes best film documentaries to be watched on iPhone/iPad. (Curators: Victor Correal, Gregory Escobar, Francisco Núñez, Ares Fernández)

Monetizes via: Subscriptions. 
see: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1110034509


Collects and organizes the best documentary films freely available online.
(See also:
DocumentaryHeaven, DocumentaryStorm, TopDocumentaryFilms, John Locker)

Monetizes via: Advertising (Google AdSense)


Gathers the greatest international films and publishes them in editions of the highest technical quality (Blu-Ray DVDs), with supplemental features that enhance their appreciation (censored scenes, interviews, unreleased clips, backstage recordings). (Curators: Peter Becker and Jon Mulvaney)

Monetizes via: Direct sales of DVDs, Subscriptions (via Hulu Plus), Merchandising.
see: 
https://www.criterion.com/library
https://www.criterion.com/hulu
https://www.criterion.com/shop


Graphic Design

Websites that collect and organize best design examples in a specific genre, theme, application.

Showcases best examples of landing pages organized into categories.
(Curator:
Danny Postma)

Monetizes via: Advertising (Carbon)


Collects and organizes best email designs examples. 
(Curators:
Matthew Smith, Sean Kennedy, Mike Nelson, Matt Helbig)

Monetizes via: Sponsorships, Advertising, Speaking.
see: http://reallygoodemails.com/about/


Curates and organizes best examples of opening titles for film, video, games and entertainment. (Curators: Will Perkins and Lola Landekic)

Monetizes via: Sponsored Stories, Speaking Engagements, Patronage.
see: https://bit.ly/aottpatreon
http://www.artofthetitle.com/about/sponsorship/


Culture

Blogs, websites, magazines that curate stories, books, films, events and people through interesting and rare-to-find contents.

Curates, blogs and organizes “wonderful things”. 
(Curators:
Mark Frauenfelder, Cory Doctorow, David Pescovitz, Xeni Jardin 
Rob Beschizza)

Monetizes via: Advertising, Merchandising and Affiliate links
see: http://store.boingboing.net 
http://boingboing.net/advertise


Writes and curates about the most diverse topics and issues with the goal of stimulating curiosity and interest. (Curator: Maria Popova)

Monetizes via: Readers donations, Affiliate commissions (Amazon)


Curates essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity. (Curator: Jason Kottke)

Monetizes via: Advertising (The Deck), Jobs for Hire, Subscription Membership
see: http://kottke.org/about/
http://kottke.org/16/11/kottkeorg-memberships
http://kottke.org/members/


20 Monetization Models for Content Curation

Image credit: Dino Reichmuth

On the basis of the real-world examples I have showcased above, here is a short-list of 20 business models that have demonstrated to be adoptable by content curators and publisher of different kinds.

1) More info/Premium access: offer a Premium, paid version of a public free curated collection, that includes additional, hard-to-collect info, not available in the basic free and public version. Paid access to a richer, in-depth version of a freely accessible catalog, collections or directory of organized information. Downloadable version instead of web only access.
(BusinessModelGallery, Press.Farm)

2) Searchable version: offer a more accessible, searchable version (e.g.: instead of text, provide an organized downloadable database).
(BusinessModelGallery)

3) Alternative format: offer an alternative, Premium format, such as an audio version, a mindmap, a summarized version, etc.
(Blinkist, GoodMorningItalia)

4) Updates/Subscription: subscription to timely updates. Paid subscription to a news feed/channel/newsletter is a monetization strategy that can be utilized in presence of a unique, hard-to-find or timely delivered information curated by one or more subject-matter experts.
(GoodMorningItalia, Kottke)

5) Direct sales: physical curated products like books, guides, DVDs, audio bundles which contain selected, high-quality hard to find links and references to content, resources, examples, tools.
(Criterion, BusinessModelGallery)

6) Advertising: monetization of the space next to high-value curated content via advertising or sponsorships. It can be sold in a number of ways:
a) Classic banner advertising alongside curated content.
b) Contextual ads (Google AdSense)
c) Direct Advertising by actively approaching relevant niche merchants 
d) Elite Ad Networks (Carbon, the Deck)
e) Prominent Inclusion (inside a directory)
(Oldversion, Filehorse, DocumentaryAddict, Kottke, BoingBoing)

7) Sponsorships
Curated content collections, feeds or directories can be sponsored by relevant companies in related areas.
(Daring Fireball, SmartBrief)

8) Sponsored Stories
Companies and publishers can be offered premium space to publish their own stories next to high value curated content
(Techmeme, SmartBrief, ArtoftheTitle)

9) Jobs for Hire
Offers for relevant jobs 
(Techmeme, SmartBrief, NomadList/GoRemote, Kottke)

10) Upcoming Events
Promotions of upcoming sector events
(Techmeme, SmartBrief)

11) Reports
Paid access to online or downloadable in-depth reports on specific topics.
(Trendhunter, Trendwatching)

12) Mentorship
Personalized coaching services.
(BusinessModelGallery, Springboard, Degreed)

13) Training, Courses, Workshops
Formal course offerings. g) Training/Education: complement curated content with complementary services such as training, mentoring, coaching and even certification
(BusinessModelGallery)

14) Certifications 
Certification testing and verification of competence.
(Coursera)

15) Commissions — Affiliate Links
Sales commissions for products, books, services mentioned and linked inside published content.
(BoingBoing, CourseBuffet, eLearnHero, BrainPickings, Kottke)

16) Speaking
Any curator with demonstrated knowledge of a specific topic via his published collections, increases a thousandfold his chances to be called to speak at events, seminars and conferences.
(ArtoftheTitle, ReallyGoodEmails, BrainPickings, BusinessModelGallery)

17) Patronage-Crowdfunding-Donations
Direct support from readers / customers sometimes connected to specific outputs. 
(BrainPickings, ArtoftheTitle)

18) Merchandising
Sales of physical products such as T-shirts, hats, mugs and posters that support the curator(s) and/or the initiatives and projects he in turn supports.
(BoingBoing, Criterion)

19) Consulting
Sales of paid consulting sessions to companies and individuals either online, via telephone or in person. 
(ReallyGoodEmails, LandingFolio)

20) Crowdfunding
Voluntary funding by readers, supporters and fans in exchange for some specific outputs.
(Unsplash)

Conclusion

In an age where knowing how to find and use the right information is one of the most valuable assets an individual can have, those who have the competence and skills to collect, organize and add value to specific information, content and resources, will become as or more valuable than Google.

Not only.

As I see it, those who consistently organize and highlight valuable resources in an ocean of shallow stuff, gain such visibility, credibility and authority, that they can promote, offer and sell anything of real value that is relevant to their audience with much less friction and effort than through any other marketing approach.

Content curators are the new Google, and while they will not replace it, they perfectly complement it by offering through it opportunities for quality discovery, research and study which would be otherwise impossible through Google search results alone.

The idea that it is impossible to compete with giant information and product providers like Google, Amazon and the likes, may have some large open holes.

Look at the physical world. Notwithstanding the dominance of huge food supermarkets and big clothing stores there has been a steady renaissance of small specialty stores, curated by passionate experts and targeting very specific needs and audiences, willing to pay a higher price tag.

Likewise, in the digital world there’s more than an ample opportunity for businesses to mediate, organize and monetize access to curated selections of news, information or products, especially when they can offer the focussed selection, recommendation and personal advice that the large platforms, magazines and newspapers have not been able to provide.


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