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AOL's Business Model: Part Two

During my conversation with AOL's Marty Moe the other day, he talked about writers, editors and other content producers in a way I have rarely -- if ever -- heard from an online business executive outside of those at Salon.com.

Many senior managers, especially in tech media companies, act as if they don't like writers and editors; only tolerating them as necessary parts of building a publishing presence online.

Of course, the entire idea of producing original content is itself controversial inside many web-based companies, where software engineers believe algorithms can do virtually anything better than humans, and where content aggregation remains a largely unchallenged model.

In this context, what Moe, SVP for Media had to say about AOL's perspective on hiring and retaining creative talent at his company was refreshing:

"We want to hire the best in every category. We look for writers and editors who are not only very, very good, but those who have experience online and who can flourish online. We pay them to produce high-quality stories."

When I asked about the compensation packages for these employees, Moe surprised me again by explaining that AOL is not currently using incentives like page-views generated or posting frequency bonuses for its creative talent out of a concern that those might "dilute quality." He said, "What matters most to us is editorial quality and journalistic integrity. We want to be the number-one publisher of high-quality, premium content, period."

This may be one of the relative luxuries AOL can afford, because it has such a large audience already in place (75 million) to sell to advertisers. Perhaps, therefore, incremental page view growth and frequent blog updates may be perceived as less useful than at a start-up, which will typically pursue more aggressive strategies just to build out its business.

I then asked about Moe about his company's strategy regarding social media, like Twitter and Facebook, because I haven't personally noticed a very big AOL footprint in social media to date. "We view the emergence of these platforms as incredibly significant; they are immediate distribution platforms," said Moe. "It's important for us to be part of them."

That sounds like there may be something in the works in that space by AOL.

He added that his philosophy is "to be where the consumer is, and let the content be passionate" -- all of which sounded very good indeed to this lifelong writer and editor...

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