The Web has begun to mature. As this happens, managers are realizing that running a quality website is a very expensive business.

Quality content does not come cheap. Many organizations are therefore beginning to question the return on investment they are seeing from their websites.

If you're managing a website, you're in the business of publishing. Oh, in the early days the Web was sold as something much more than publishing. It was something almost magical. The old rules didn't apply. The Web was about interactivity, online communities and e-commerce. If you didn't absolutely embrace the Web, you simply didn't get it.

On a day-to-day basis, though, you're a publisher. If you are running an intranet, you have a constant problem getting content out of various departments. On your public website, you worry about whether the content is well written and understandable. Your website requires that content gets commissioned, written, edited and published. That's what publishers do.

Publishing has a dirty little secret. It's a secret that was well-hidden in the early days of the Web. It was hidden behind venture capital and unbelievable hype. It was hidden behind the enthusiasm of pioneers. It was hidden behind the belief that what was important was to be a player. That the profits would come later.

The dirty little secret of publishing is that it is very hard to make a profit out of publishing. I have been involved in the publishing industry for about twenty years. In that time, I have seen a great many magazines and book publishers come and go. I have seen the inside of magazines that have survived. They are run as a very tight ship.

The big publishers can make a lot of money. But they have to be very big. To make real money out of publishing you need to achieve significant scale. Otherwise, you'd better have content that is so valuable people are willing to pay a lot of money for it.

If most organizations took the time to analyze the costs and the returns of their websites in the last five years, they'd be in for a shock. Yes, it did cost that much. No, it didn't deliver enough value to cover its costs.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.