Sunday, August 2, 2009

Newspaper/Blog Hybrid Business Model

Part I

I want to know more about how newspapers incorporate blogging into their business model.

Much has been posted on the need for newspapers (particularly North American newspapers, operated by larger corporations and carrying a heavy debt load (1)), to rejig their business plans. For example, Clay Shirky's classic March 13, 2009 post (1,055 comments, as of this writing).

Clay points out that newspapers foresaw the internet's potential impact well in advance and, in the 1990's, came up with an array of plans, but that they ignored the 'unthinkable' scenario that ensued, instead stiving to maintain a doomed order.
The core assumption behind all imagined outcomes (save the unthinkable one) was that the organizational form of the newspaper, as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift.
Shirky concludes that:
With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.
He also compares the present day publishing landscape with the 1500's (impacted by the printing press), pointing out that in a revolution it is hard to predict what will succeed. The traditional model's dominance was based on a publication cost barrier, which enabled high, sustainable advertising and subscription revenues. As ads shift from classifieds to craigslist, and bloggers tackle more of Clark Kent's workload, these revenues are redirected.

We don't know what is going to work, just that it is changing. Clay Shirky suggests we focus not on what works for newspapers, but on what best serves society.

Step back and consider the big picture, in which newspapers are small players owned by globe-spanning corporations (who also own radio, TV and ISPs). If we are to believe the Media Democracy Day folks, these represent an ongoing threat to individual freedom, which behooves us to be cautious in the face of change and to stand up for:
* Education - understanding how the media shapes our world and our democracy
* Protest - against a media system based on commercialization and exclusiveness
* Change - calls for media reforms that respond to public interests, promote diversity, and ensure community representation and accountability.

Perhaps many would regard these 'topics to be avoided at the dinner table' (or in polite conversation), the province of passionate fringers: Entertaining, but disturbing, and certainly not profitable in the short term. However, they do present information of possible value to those speculating on media futures.

Which, in a philosophical sense, is everyone. Or, if you heed the twittersphere, seems like almost everyone in a hardcore PR/marketing/hype/blind-leading-the-blind way.


Gans, Joshua. Newspapers in The Voice : Core Economics. The Voice, 13 July 2009.
Put simply, for the vast majority of news, the value comes from being able to talk about and share it ("did you hear about"?) rather than add to your pool of knowledge per se.
Kafka, Peter. What Happens When Your Local Paper Goes Online-Only? It Loses Most of Its Staff. The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, June 24, 2009.
Here’s what the math looks like: I’ve broken up the P&L into three sections, and clicking on each of them will enlarge the image. Or you can view the whole thing as a Google document here.
(1) Try Googling 'newspaper debt load'.

Other searches:
newspaper blog business model
newspaper sample business model

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