A New Revenue Model for Journalism and Other Online Content

August 13, 2009

As a former journalist, and as an admirer of the craft and of its dedicated practitioners, the current revenue struggles of newspapers, magazines and even web sites that publish their work is a source of great despair to me. And as a voracious but exclusively online reader of all of this great (and even not-so-great) work, I’m in no hurry to see it disappear as publishing companies lay journalists off, eschew freelancers or, worse, go out of business altogether.

Having said that, I’m not going to pay for online content. I’ve been getting it for free since the mid-1990s and I’m not about to start paying now for every article or site I devour. Same applies for music and movies: I watch and listen to whatever’s legally free, and that’s more than enough for me.

And like most humans, I don’t pay much attention to online advertising. Content publishers are well aware of this. They’re not happy about it, but they know.

So what is a possible source for the money to pay all of these journalists, and content generators in general?

Lars Bastholm, the recently installed chief digital creative officer for advertising/marketing/PR behemoth Ogilvy North America, just wrote a column for BusinessWeek that is possibly the most cogent and sensible analysis of what he calls the pervasive “content crisis” that I have yet seen.

Will online advertising ever save the day? “The idea that advertising can support the entire content industry is a fallacy,” he says, and I agree.

With online advertising a permanent non-starter, Bastholm says content companies remain unfortunately transfixed by the concept of micropayments, which he rightly debunks as pure, fantastical, wishful thinking.

He considers a federal tax or fee for TV and internet usage that would be distributed to content providers, much like what has been levied in European nations for years, but rightly concludes that such a scheme could never, ever, EVER work in America. Consider the vitriol currently being spewed about something as sensible as nationalized health care. Now extrapolate that to, “These socialists ain’t gonna make me pay for my teevee and my interwebs!” Like I said, no American politician would ever advocate such a plan.

Essentially, he then asks: Why not do the truly American thing and let private corporations subtly tax you to death? The thing is, this de facto tax would be something I would gladly pay in order to provide livelihoods for creative Americans.

Bastholm suggests the mobile web and broadband providers add another charge to their already complex bills: say, $10 per month to support the delivery of internet content. The content would still be free; your access to it would be further charged.

Now, no one wants to pay MORE for their cable or phone bills, especially these days, but some PR and advertising for these programs that explains what will happen if no one can make a living any more producing the content you enjoy would be effective.

So where do these fees, which he estimates could be north of a billion dollars a month, go? How would they be distributed? Bastholm proposes a meritocracy of sorts that focuses both on the popularity and the type of content (movies cost more to make than text-based news stories, for example, so the distribution would be weighted to reflect that disparity). Such payments, he says, would be “based on a metric that people better at math than I am will figure out. But the principle is simple: You get paid based on how many people like your stuff.”

In the process, the whole business of advertising, he says, will be blown up and reassembled to better suit this new paradigm. Instead of being a “necessity,” it becomes an “elective” source of revenue. As a result, he expects advertising to become much more interactive, compelling and (gasp) hopefully even enjoyable for the user.

This article raises more questions than it answers, but I really like the general idea Bastholm proposes. Especially if it keeps journalists, filmmakers, musicians and others fed, clothed and sheltered. Maybe they’d even have healthcare. But that’s an argument for another day…

Posted by Joe Paone

Pepsi Seeking Social Media Gurus for Internet Week

May 22, 2009

AdWeek’s “Attention Unemployed Journos…” article definitely caught my attention. We are all (painfully) aware of job loss cross-industries, however the journalism profession seems to have taken the most catastrophic hit of all as ad dollars dwindle and page counts become more limited. The good news – PepsiCo is hiring . The mediocre news: the company is targeting seasoned journalists and college students, alike… What?

Yup. Times, they are a ‘changing!

Pepsi is hosting an “open newsroom” experiment in which the nine “social communicator” new-hires will cover the happenings surrounding Internet Week. The goal: “to align the brand with the social media space”. To accomplish this, they will use blogs, Twitter and video to report from the trenches (and parties) at Internet Week between June 1st and the 8th in New York. All content will be uploaded to populate the PepsiCo Content Network.

How to apply? The open casting call welcomes anyone from reputable journalists, to students, social media dabblers and “anyone with a hankering to report using social media tools”. Submit an essay, links to your LinkedIn and Twitter pages, and a Tweet of 140 characters with the reason you should be hired. Simple, right?

This experiment is certainly blurring the lines of journalism as we know it.  Yup. Times, they are a ‘changing!

Posted by: Katie | follow me on Twitter

The tipping point of print media?

November 17, 2008

I was struck by an interesting article that Mediabistro sent my way this morning in Ad Age For Thousands of Laid-Off Mag Employees, a Long Road Ahead.

The article cites the now expected talk of the spiraling economy. Ad pages down by 7.4% in June (September and October should be shockingly higher). Layoffs heard round the world of media as Time Inc., Hearst and Conde Nast cut their staff. This is not the interesting part, in fact it was extremely disheartening to read on a cold Monday morning.

What I did find interesting was the contradictory opinion that “the print business isn’t going away”. It isn’t? Coupled with “We still don’t know where we are in the transformation of media from the industrial age really to the information age.” You are right, we don’t.

What we do know is that most office workers capture most of their daily news on the web. That everyday bloggers and other social media adopters are blurring the lines once established by print media. That this shift is now redefining our approach and expectations as PR professionals. That journalists with long-standing careers in print media are feeling the pinch because their deserved salaries rather than the quality of work. Postage is up and ad spending is down. The internet is constantly at our fingers. And on and on…

Will the impending recession of 2009 be the tipping point that shifts publications to all-digital and online media? Will it redefine journalism as a trade? Will it redefine the practices of public relations? It already has. Hasn’t it?

Posted by: katie