In its 2009 Media & Entertainment Predictions report, consulting and advisory firm Deloitte warns that with no monetization schemes in place, user generated content will become less attractive to publishers. “A site with tens of millions of members, all submitting content and viewing each others’ digital offerings, was regarded as a good thing,” the report says. “During the coming year, that may well change, for the simple reason that while the absolute cost of creating the content may be tiny, the ability to realize any revenue from the content may be smaller still.”
However, one online enthusiast publisher is starting to bridge the gap between UGC, editorial content and revenue. FordMuscle.com, which caters to Ford performance enthusiasts (and competes for the same automotive performance aftermarket advertising dollars as numerous Source Interlink titles such as Hot Rod and Car Craft), introduced a forum category called “Tech Exchange,” in which members can submit graphic how-tos. “The biggest problem in trying to produce in-house content is knowing that what our audience is doing in their garages is more diverse than anything we could do if we hired 20 guys, bought 100 cars and had all the free parts in the world,” says co-founder Jon Mikelonis.
FordMuscle staff edits outside content before it’s made available to readers and contributors are rewarded for their submissions. “Our advertisers appreciate peer-to-peer technical content as long as it’s edited, formatted, and scrubbed,” says Mikelonis. “Sure, if you open the flood gates and let anything go, advertisers will not want to be placed adjacent to foul content. Work at it, reward the contributors, play editor. And it just might work for your online community.”
The site receives between three to five submissions (which are typically five pages long with up to 50 photos) per week, which go to a staging area and are managed by a former subscriber-turned-employee. “We don’t get to the same level as in-house content,” says Mikelonis. “We still want it to be peer-to-peer, but there are some basic requirements: It needs to have an introduction, at least three photos and demonstrate a sense of sequence and a result. When one of our readers sits down online, they want to know how to get something done.”
If a member submits one tutorial, FordMuscle sends a t-shirt. If they do two, they get a hat. If a member does six, they receive $100. “If someone is especially enthusiastic, we may then bring them on as a freelancer,” says Mikelonis.
Parts manufacturers can also be highlighted in the tutorial, although ads are not sold directly against it. Mikelonis says the site asks its top contributors what they might need for upgrades they’re working on. “We do not try to strong-arm the contributors into using parts from advertisers but we will steer them in that direction if a contributor’s needs and our resources align,” he adds.
Selling Around UGC
Mikelonis says that advertisers haven’t tried to influence the tutorials. “We have not been put in that position yet. While we are confident we have more influence and reach than traditional print magazines, advertisers in our space are not yet willing to allocate an equal amount of dollars to their online and print ad expenditures. So, since our advertisers are probably aware they are getting a bargain with us, they then don’t feel compelled to make editorial demands.”
FordMuscle sells an annual online subscription for $19.95 per year and is considering a pay-per-article model for the future (subscription accounts for about 40 percent of revenue, while advertising accounts for 60 percent). “I think we’d do a lot better,” says Mikelonis. “Although we call this a subscription, we know users don’t pay for the promise of new content. They pay for that article and access to our technical archive. The print model is counter to the way enthusiasts want information. They don’t want to pay a subscription and hope that next month they get an article relevant to their car.”
FordMuscle.com generates about 160,000 unique visitors each month and expects to break $500,000 in revenue in 2009.