Paid content models will emerge, but publishers need to figure out how to target the right content to the right audience over the right platform.

That was the takeaway from "Where Do We Go from Here?," a panel that took place Nov. 12 at Media and Money, a two-day conference sponsored by Dow Jones and Nielsen, Billboard's parent company.

"We can't survive as a media industry if everything gets down to free," said Herb Scannell, executive chairman and co-founder of Next New Networks.

Among those trying to create paid-content models is Steve Brill, whose startup Journalism Online proposes to help publishers charge readers for online content.

Brill said the burden is on editors to create distinctive content that people will pay for. One way Journalism Online proposes to work is by paying online readers for bringing in new subscribers by recommending articles.

"You can turn those parasites into your sales agents," he quipped, referring to people who are accustomed to reading content for free.

Once consumers start paying more, advertisers will follow, Brill predicted, reasoning that advertisers are willing to pay more for paid circulation than for free circulation.

Despite the free-content model that's dominated, Kirk McDonald, president of Time Inc. Digital, suggested that as the differences among types of content become more clear, charging will become easier.

"I'm confident that consumers realize you need a certain amount of authority to create that lean-back content," he said.

Taking a swipe at online ad networks, McDonald also stressed the need for publishers to get as much value as possible out of their digital content from advertisers.

Networks play a role in selling remnant inventory, but are also guilty of "driving down the value of the products we're creating," said McDonald, whose employer earlier this year became the latest traditional print company to form an online ad network to represent its digital brands.

While paid content models evolve, the ability to learn more about consumers' media habits and measure their engagement levels will fine-tune the way marketers buy media, panelists said.

"Making ads addressable and segmentable to consumers is key," McDonald said.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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