Penny for his thoughts

Too bad David Carr didn’t walk down the hall at the Times to ask someone to remind him of the disaster that was TimesSelect before he penned today’s column wishing for, praying for, fantasizing about an iTunes for news content that finally gets them—those damned readers—to pay for our words again. TimesSelect tried that and it didn’t work when the paper learned that—notwithstanding what Carr’s echo-chamber expert tells him—free is a business model (and charging money costs money). Music isn’t ad-supported, news is.

But the real fallacy in Carr’s delusion is that a news story or an opinion, like a song, is unique—that you can’t get it somewhere else and so you have to buy the original. If I can’t get Allentown, the original, I’m not likely to settle for a cover. But if I can’t get Carr’s column about wishing for micropayments, believe me, I can go elsewhere and find plenty more columns and blog posts just like it. And even if Carr had a unique idea here, the essence of it—without guitar accompaniment—can spread without having to hear him sing the tune. Information isn’t art. Neither are opinions.

And, by the way, I think Carr is quite unfair to Michael Hirschorn’s Atlantic column about a different future for The New York Times. Hirschorn did not say that, in Carr’s summary, “tweets, blogs and stripped-down news aggregators could fill the gap in reporting…” He was trying to find a new model for supporting the core reporting of The New York Times – a model that wouldn’t require begging and empty dreams.

  • http://blog-o-blog.com Zac Echola

    Case in point: I just read this post, didn’t follow the link to the column and I have a pretty good idea what’s there. And you didn’t even quote anything.

    That’s the real issue here. Even if you can control the order of the words through Copyright, you’ll never have control over the ideas therein.

    I think your second graph is inherent in this argument. If a fire breaks out and the local paper writes 600 words on it, a friend sending me a text message about the same fire will often suffice. The same idea (a fire) can move from person to person separately from copyright.

    • http://www.our-hometown.com Stephen Larson

      I wonder why it is that courts don’t allow hearsay? You’re welcome to take Jeff’s word for what Mr. Carr had to say but I for one am not.

  • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

    But the Financial Times and the New Yorker seems to be ahead of the curve. I subscribe to the FT to get at the conversations between experts on important issues. Nice. (To tell the truth I have no idea if that is a subscription only service.)

    The New Yorker seems to have adopted the read for free and pay for stuff model. Luckily they actually produce content that is worth paying for.

    So what does the Times produce that I’m willing to pay for. Not becuase I can’t get it somewhere else. Just because it’s easier to pay them than to hunt for it myself.

    Maybe the emperor’s clothes is that the content they produce is not worth paying just to find it easily.

    • http://medianation.blogspot.com Dan Kennedy

      Michael — A number of magazines seem to have evolved a different model for their websites, using them to supplement and enhance their print editions, and engaging their audience, rather than reproducing the whole thing. It’s a model that newspapers might have emulated, though I suppose it’s too late now.

      • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

        Interesting. But I don’t think it’s too late by any means. Just cause the stock price is tanking and everyone thinks the “sky is falling.” The problem with the big organizations is that they are very slow. The good news is that once they move, it’s amazing how they can recover. IMHO.

  • http://civilities.net Jon Garfunkel

    In what way was TimesSelect a disaster? The feared “loss of influence” did not happen– at least, not to the extant that the know-it-alls supposed.

    There are subscription approaches which can work; the industry is just not thinking creatively enough.

    Jon

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      It most certainly did. Ask Tom Friedman, who publicly hated it. Traffic surged 40 percent after the change (and ad avails with it).

      • Bob Jones

        It wasn’t a failure. It just wasn’t as lucrative as placing the ads. And of course Friedman and every other reporter wants to be widely read. But I don’t see Tom Friedman giving away his books for free. If he really believed in ad supported media, that’s what he would do.

      • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

        Also, I have a feeling which I can not document that Tom’s feelings got hurt when it turned out people wouldn’t pay to read his golden insights.

      • http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

        Thanks Bob and Michael for your thoughts. Michael, indeed, what Jeff was referring to was Friedman griping about losing his *global* readership (he has often mentioned in his writings how people around the world gush over meeting him. I can’t imagine any other of his colleagues getting anywhere near the recognition.)

        Glad to see threaded discussions here — easier to agree with other commenters — but not enough room to continue an argument here. I analyzed the data on this, and just didn’t see an abject *disaster*. Perhaps data from the NYT might help me.

        But perhaps it was a disaster insofar as poisoning the well for a value-added subscription service in some shape or form.

      • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

        Jon,

        The mantra is “we can learn more from failures than successes.” But in the panic over newspapers, if one manifestation of an approach doesn’t work, people seem to draw the conclusion that it wasn’t worth doing. Makes sense giving the immediacy of the problem. But doesn’t get anyone closer to getting from here to there.

        Thanks for the “can work” link. No doubt calmer heads will prevail and we’ll get this right.

  • http://www.subhub.com Evan Rudowski

    Jeff,

    People will pay for content online if it is unique; actionable and trustworthy. It helps if the content provider has an established reputation in the relevant category.

    “Unique” and “actionable” are key. If alternatives of similar quality are available elsewhere, then the content fails the uniqueness test. If it is not actionable — providing real value to readers, usually in terms of time or money saved or gained — then it is probably not worth paying for.

    This is why Times Online failed. It passed the reputation and trustworthiness tests, but it failed in uniqueness and actionability. WSJ.com works because it succeeds on the reputation front, the actionabilty front and the trustworthiness front. It probably fails in terms of uniqueness, as there are numerous alternatives for financial coverage. But the other elements are so strong that they make it possible to sustain a subscription model.

    I have often felt you had a blind spot in terms of the potential for paid content, as I have made clear many times to your likely annoyance. However I agree with you that newspapers in general fail the above-mentioned tests, and therefore should largely give up on the paid content model. Unfortunately, the online advertising model does not look great for them either.

    Certain individual components of newspapers, or individual journalists with their highly specialised expertise, have great paid content potential because they tick all of the boxes of uniqueness, actionability, trustworthiness and reputation. They ought to be encouraged to pursue such opportunities.

    Nor are paid content and advertising mutually exclusive, as they can easily co-exist under a freemium model which offers much quality content for free and then upsells readers to paid packages of additional content. This is what we see with our most successful customers at SubHub.

    Kind regards,
    Evan

    Components of newspapers

  • RobLevine

    One word: Bloomberg.
    It’s always amazing to me how the information-must-be-free crowd consistently fails to notice that one of the few journalism organizations that’s thriving is also one of the few that charges for information.

    If you want to make money, charge for your work.

    If you don’t want people to steal it, lock it up.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      I was just talking with a big news exec this morning who said that the real value of Bloomberg’s data to its subscribers is about 10 seconds long. And then he bet they’re going to put the content – now archives already – up on the web for plain consumers. Why do you think Norm Pearlstein is there?

      • RobLevine

        Honestly? I think Pearlstein is there because Bloomberg’s employees got sick of their current taskmaster and Pearlstein got sick of working in private equity. But even if Bloomberg does post stories on the Web, it doesn’t change the company’s central business model: Charging for information. They may give it away for a number of reasons: visibility, promotion, marginal revenue. But it’s pretty clear that an ad-supported operation would never fund the kind of newsroom that Bloomberg runs. Right now, in fact, Bloomberg runs a number of ad-supported outlets for its stories, including (when I last looked) a magazine, and none of them seem to generate a ton of revenue (although, I admit, it’s hard to tell for sure.

        Since you brought up “Allentown,” look at the music business, which is bleeding because in the U.S. the DMCA holds harmless companies that build businesses stealing the content of others. (European courts have held otherwise.) Every content business that releases media without DRM is in serious trouble: Music, film, TV, everything. What’s the one part of the entertainment business that’s thriving? Video games, which have airtight DRM.

        The fantasy, to borrow a word from Jay Rosen, is that companies can make money giving away content based on the CPMs you see on the Web. While visibility is always nice, cash is much better. For years, I wrote for the Times as a freelancer and watched bloggers steal my stories – taking paragraphs and paragraphs in a row for sites that made money on advertising that by rights should belong to the Times. (To me, anything more than a paragraph is stealing.) Everyone told me that I should be happy I was more visible. Strangely, however, my landlord did not accept this social currency in lieu of rent.

    • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

      Another word: Bloomberg Press. He seems to be able to make the transition from web service to TV to publishing books.
      http://www.ordering1.us/bloombergbooks/show_all.php?cid=3

  • http://www.pressthink.org Jay Rosen

    David Carr definitely did give an incorrect summary of what Hirschorn said in his Atlantic piece; I’m surprised he would do that since Carr is usually pretty careful. On the other hand I am not surprised since this particular distortion–fantasy, really–appears to be irresistible to pro journalists who work in the newspaper division.

    The fantasy works like this: Journalists dogmatically insist that there are all these misguided voices out there claiming that bloggers and Twitterers and other amateurs making use of the power to self-publish will “replace” journalists or “fill the gap” when the newsrooms empty out.

    In reality, almost no one believes this, and it’s virtually impossible to find a quote to that effect. Now this is a real problem because the demand to refute someone–anyone!–who would make the “replace” claim is just huge among professional journalists. They really really really want someone they can dispute, but with almost no supply worldwide they’re in a real pickle.

    The usual solution is just make it up, and attribute the claim to nameless “Internet evangelists” or “blogging utopians.” What’s hilarious about this case is that Hirschorn did just that in his Atlantic article! Here is what he writes:

    Internet purists may maintain that the Web will throw up a new pro-am class of citizen journalists to fill the void, but for now, at least, there’s no online substitute for institutions that can marshal years of well-developed sourcing and reporting experience.

    Later on he says that if the Times starts collapsing, the shrunken remnant in the newsroom can adapt by linking and blogging and it will have to take us to alternative sources, (including witnesses on the scene, as in Mumbai) rather than have a correspondent on the scene in every case. Hirschorn thinks that such a combination wouldn’t be the same, but it might be good enough. Now that is a long long way from “replace,” but remember: we’re in the realm of fantasy here, of huge demand without almost zero supply, so even a hint can be enough to trigger the impulse to refute a phantom.

    Let’s look at how Carr does it:

    “Michael Hirschorn, writing in the January-February issue of The Atlantic, used some fatuous math to foretell the end of The New York Times and then added that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, that tweets, blogs and stripped-down news aggregators could fill the gap in reporting out the terrible events in Mumbai or New Orleans.”

    Did Hirschorn say that? I don’t think he did.

    Carr: “Mr. Hirschorn is a smart guy — I used to work for him at a Web-based media site — and while there is nothing sacred about The New York Times, the experienced, and yes, expensive journalistic muscle it deploys on events big and small is not going to be replaced by a vanguard of unpaid content providers.”

    Did Hirschorn say that? I don’t think he did. Hirschorn said what Carr said: right now (which is when he thinks the Times might collapse– okay May 2009…) “there’s no online substitute for institutions that can marshal years of well-developed sourcing and reporting experience.”

    Who is Carr arguing with? Someone he wants to exist, badly enough to trigger a misreading. But where does this desire come from? What’s it all about?

    • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

      Jay, the problem here is playing what I call “The Game Of A-lister Wins”. To repeat what I’ve said before:

      The outcome of this game is simple: The A-lister wins, because, drumroll … they’re the A-lister and you’re not. But the mechanism of the win does illuminate a deep issue.

      The basic problem is that if an A-lister is caught saying something wrong or stupid, they get to redefine it so that they didn’t say it. Because, again, they’re the A-lister and you’re not. If you claim they did say it, they always have the option of writing a personal attack on you to their audience, which may be two or three orders of magnitude more than your own.

      The only people who can stand up to this *effectively* are pundits of similar status.

      Before Jay accuses me of deliberate unfalsifiability: I’ll acknowledge the philosophical problem, but will he acknowledge the practical issue?

      Again, there’s something very profound here about the future of journalism.

      To show how this works, I’d like to point people to Jay Rosen’s exchange with Nick Carr at:

      “The Great Unread”
      http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/08/the_great_unrea.php

    • zeitguy

      Hey Jay,
      The caustic effect of many-to-many subsidized publication (web) is not on the news — it is on the sociology of privelege-as-authority. Twentieth century journalism built up then squandered this “capital” in the refraction of Watergate. The point is, that if newspapers still supported the kind of civic moment that the reporters and columnists of the fifties represented, they wouldn’t be in danger. The question is, whether the blogoplasm will differentiate to produce real character, over time.

      The web doesn’t know what constitutes good writing. The market doesn’t know what constitutes sustainable mores of institutional behavior. There is a resonance between the two phenomena, but not a causal link. What do you think of this from the perspective of civic journalism?

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com Tish Grier

    “Information isn’t art. Neither are opinons.” Good point, Jeff…

    Which is what really got me about Carr’s iTunes suggestion–it was totally ignorant of the impact of iTunes, free music, and the like on the music industry (and musicians specifically.) I’m lucky to have some friends locally who are music producers and musicians, so I get to hear and see the effects. Would Carr like to be told that he’ll make less than 99 cents for something it took him months to produce? Would he like to be told that his tee shirts and live gigs are suppose to support the free music he gives away? Would he like to be told that he has to put more money into his “brand” and merchandise than into his journalism?

    Further, music’s never been supported by ad revenue. It’s always been about sales. Online newspapers still have ads, even if the monetization stinks. Newspapers aren’t giving away their journalism in quite the same way that musicians are asked to give away their music.

    Still, the realities of what’s happening in the music industry to the art of music is, in some ways, far worse that what’s happening to journalism.

  • Pingback: Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard » Blog Archive » Carr’s “iTunes for news” already exists

  • David Westphal

    So, Jeff, you’re contending that all news is non-unique? That if you miss the secret prison story or the NSA eavesdropping story or the Guantanamo detaine story in the Post or Times or McClatchy you just hop over to someplace else because it’s surely there somewhere?

    Often hopping works fine. But there’s a very large mass of information out there, local, national, international, much of it quite important, that has a unique start. Today, a lot of it starts because it’s paid for. Someday, we hope, a news-as-free model would produce the same, or better, result. But nobody knows when that will happen, or if that will happen.

    Carr’s basic argument is sound: It’s worth wondering, as GlobalPost is wondering starting today, if there isn’t a new way to pay for important information you might not know otherwise.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      No, David, but once the INFORMATION (as opposed to the story) is known – repeated on TV, let alone the internet – it’s known. The half-life of the scoop is now about 30 seconds. So I’m saying that trying to shut it off and charge for it won’t work. Does it have value? Absolutely. But in a link economy, that value comes from monetizing the traffic one receives from those links rather than in trying to sell multiple copies of a story.

      • David Westphal

        It may well be that charging for news won’t/can’t work. Of course, it may be that monetizing link-based traffic won’t work either. So I’m for any initiative (brainstorming, too, but especially the initiative) that tries out new ideas for paying for that original kernel of news. Can’t have enough of them (both ideas and kernels).

      • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

        @ David,

        IMHO,
        Step one: produce a product that people will willing pay for. Consider Cooks or the New Yorker. Note: this is the really hard part.

        Step two: deliver that product in various ways that get paid. One way is selling CPM’s to a website. Another way is to listen “read for free, pay for Print.” Produce various Print products that are worth reading.

        Step three: create events with the people that your advertisers want to talk to.

        Step four: Do the analytics on your readers who come to the web and sell the analysis of your readership to your advertiser’s as either competitive intelligence or a way for the advertiser’s to better understand their audience.

        Consider that Wal-Mart pulled out of the deal with Prism because they didn’t want to share their customer exchange data. It must be worth something to someone.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Zac Echola said: “Case in point: I just read this post, didn’t follow the link to the column and I have a pretty good idea what’s there. And you didn’t even quote anything.”

    To which I give a little inward groan. If your idea of learning about something is to skip the source and read only the criticism, then you will get the media you deserve.

    • http://blog-o-blog.com Zac Echola

      Ian, firstly we’re talking about business models here. I agree with you that relying only on criticism of facts is stupid, but you’re setting up a straw man. The point is that ideas can be separated from Copyright. Nobody owns the news, so why would you pay one person when the another–a blogger or another news source for example–can accurately parlay that information using a different string of words.

      Secondly, your argument hinges on the idea that newspapers are “the source.” That’s simply not always the case. If I see a fire or feel an earthquake and post to my twitter account, I’m just as much the source as the local paper.

      Thirdly, you’re pretending that the Web is a mass medium. It is not. This is not a world where one person or organization dictates to a group of people. That group of people can commingle and interact with each other around an idea or piece of news.

      Lastly, getting back to the business argument, if newspapers or their Web sites are no longer the only source, why would you hide your information behind a wall? It’s building a moat around your business, while letting others walk in the back door.

  • http://planetabell.com John C Abell

    Neither information nor opinion may be art, but writing is. In the parlance of this context, that is the differentiator. So, yes, I’d be willing to pay for the work of a particular writer — that is how I decide what books to buy. Personal brand is the germ of the pay-for model. That is why I subscribe to certain writers (who happen to be blogging) and not others. I think we miss that basic point to our peril by making Carr’s exaggerations and bogeyman search the issue. Our challenge is to figure out how to pay for news-gathering that is reliable and in which we can trust, not preserve any particular business model or an old, gray mare who ain’t what she used to be, even if she has served us well. And our time is running out quickly, now.

  • http://preaprez.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/see-no-evil.jpg invitedmedia

    having just returned from a quick tour of the detroit auto show, this story reminds me of the majority of media folks we met there (and there were plenty!).

    i only got one of their names– seeno internet, but you can figure out the rest of their names by clicking on my id!

  • Kyle

    Maybe you’re not looking at this the right way?

    http://justinmclachlan.com/09/01/itunes-news-business-a-la-carte-journalism/

  • Bob Jones

    If ad supported media is so great, why don’t you give away WWGD?

    • Peter

      Because the business model for books still works. Book publishing is a growth industry. Newspaper is a dying one. If paper journalists would think a little before they snark- we get those for free, everywhere.

      http://www.bisg.org/news/press.php?pressid=42

      • Peter

        Also, Jeff thinks WWGD presents unique and quality information that people would pay for. Notice he’s not writing a long news article on WWGD and expects people to pay for it. Bottom line, most of the so called news out there are just a waste of ink. That’s why no one wants to pay for it.

        Spy-bot is a free anti-spyware software. But I chose to donate money to them because I find the constant updates valuable to me and don’t want them to go out of business. So they succeed. Get it, paper journalists? (And spy-bot believes in links too. You can download the freeware at many sites they don’t own, better to help them spread their product.)

        Also, aspiring book writers in China have discovered that the best way to sell a book is to throw it online for free. If it’s really good, the word of mouth would spread and people will actually go BUY the book (like me). There are many bestseller examples like this, three of which are (my translation): ‘Du Lala’s Promotion’ (over 600K sold), ‘Those Things That Happened During Ming Dynasty’ (6th installment and counting) and ‘The Ghost Blew Off The Candle’ (a tomb raider serial in its Nth installment.) They are all available for free on the net. But the writers make money – lots of them. They’ve also figured out that even before they get a publishing deal, it’s a great way to attract the attention of the burgeoning film and TV industry. They may get a movie or TV deal if not a book deal and no 10% agents necessary. So the problem is? Paper journalists produce something nobody wants and they whine nobody is paying for their worthless shits. Meanwhile, people with products that people want are taking full advantage of the Everything’s Free Model. Lessons, anybody? Probably not. Your bailout will be coming as the Democrats will definitely not allow their propaganda machine to go completely dead. Btw, since when do paper journalists get tenures?

      • http://www.baristanet.com Debbie Galant

        Book publishing is a growth industry? I think they’d be happy to hear that.

        I’m wondering when all books will be free on Kindle – as long as you accept the ads.

        Can’t wait to read WWGD. Where’s my free ARC, Jeff?

      • Peter

        Debbie Galant,

        Please click on the link that was in my previous comment. You may be surprised.

        Are all journalists this lazy or clueless? Clicking on a link is not that technologically challenged, is it?

        Here’s another one: http://www.forewordmagazine.com/blogs/matters/2009/01/06/WHAT8217SNEXTFORBOOKPUBLISHING.aspx

        Digital or dead tree, book publishing is growing and no one is crying woe is me. And in many parts of the world, paper book publishing is thriving even though internet access is just as widespread (China has more netizens then the population of the US or close to it) . Again, they’ve products that people WANT to buy, either on paper or 01s, as opposed to what “journalists” have to offer. Keep snarking. That’s all you have left. And it’s worthless.

  • http://www.claudepate.com Karl

    Maybe Billy Joel could write about The New York Times staff as the downtrodden victims of a declining journalism industry.

  • http://virtualjournalist.wordpress.com Anthony Salveggi

    Jeff: You are correct to point out Carr’s mischaracterization of Hirschorn’s fine Atlantic article. However, I take issue with your criticism of his Times column.

    You write: “Carr’s delusion is that a news story or an opinion, like a song, is unique—that you can’t get it somewhere else and so you have to buy the original. … But if I can’t get Carr’s column about wishing for micropayments, believe me, I can go elsewhere and find plenty more columns and blog posts just like it.”

    True, you could find other articles with a similar point of view. But they wouldn’t have Carr’s particular point of view, or his unique set of supports for his argument, or his writing style. It also presumes one would know to look for them. I found Carr’s article through your site and Romenekso, which (along with the Times) are in my bookmarks. It wasn’t because I started trolling the Internet for information about online pay models.

    Time is also a major issue. How many people working 10-12 hour jobs would have the time, patience or energy to spend searching Google to find free content on every particular piece of news that interests them if it might already be available to them for a small fee from a known, reputable source? If I pay for Consumer Reports, I’m not just buying its information. I’m paying for the convenience of being able to quickly access valuable content from a centralized location and a source I trust.

    Even assuming that I know the subject of Carr’s article without reading it, I would rather pay for his column (if the topic really interests me) than go searching the Web for free, related content. That’s because I associate a high standard of journalism with the New York Times, and because I trust that Carr, who is paid for his work, would have synthesized the information that might be gleaned from dozens of other blog posts and sources.

    Which leads me to Zac’s comment that a text message about a fire is just as good as the 600-word article in the local paper. Maybe that’s true for Zac, but I would guess it’s not true for a lot of other people, myself included. (Never mind that it does nothing to counter the argument that it’s not an apocalyptic business idea to charge for some news.) His friend’s text message (or subsequent texts) isn’t going to include interviews with eyewitnesses or the owners of the building or the firemen who fought the blaze. Let’s assume Zac doesn’t care about all that; just knowing that a building burned is enough. Well, is that going to hold true for issues of increasing importance? Will a text message also suffice for stories about cuts to local school budgets or zoning decisions that impact people’s lives? And no, I’m not arguing that only paid journalists working for news corporations can do this kind of work. Dedicated bloggers can as well. And if they provide a high level of quality reporting for free, you can be sure I’ll choose them before I choose a pay site.

    I also have to echo Ian’s groan about Zac’s comment that he doesn’t need to read Carr’s article because Jeff already addressed it. It was precisely because of Jeff’s criticism that I wanted to hear Carr speak for himself. Glad I did, because his piece was both well-written and thought-provoking.

    Finally, Jeff writes that “information isn’t art” – but why should that be the criteria for determining what has value in the marketplace? Borders and Barnes & Noble are filled with books and journals that are artless compendiums of knowledge. And people pay for them. If I had to pay a yearly subscription to Slate.com or start a debit account that decreased with each article I read, I would.

    • http://blog-o-blog.com Zac Echola

      The funny thing about journalists is that they think people give a shit where a piece of information comes from. Most don’t. And most certainly don’t trust traditional media organizations, especially over information from their friends.

      So, again. You’re pretending that news happens in a bubble and the only way to encapsulate it is in a story. In a newspaper or on a Web site.

      Photos, video, comments, documents all of that can be disaggregated from a single space. A text message may not suffice if I wanted more information, but I don’t have to go to the local paper to find more. And I certainly wouldn’t go to the paper for a photo if I could find it on flickr, comments on Facebook and twitter, quotes on people’s blogs.

      • http://virtualjournalist.wordpress.com Anthony Salveggi

        I didn’t mean to imply that news happens in a bubble or can only be told through a single story. Tweets, Facebook, RSS feeds, aggregation — all are tools that journalists should, and must, embrace. Those who resist, or want to perpetuate the false “bloggers vs. journalists” dichotomy do so at their own peril.

        But I do believe that a story, or better still, a series of stories on a news event can, by its comprehensiveness and aggregation of sources, have more appeal than a series of brief, decentralized takes on the same event, and thus have more “value” to the reader.

      • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

        @ Anthony,
        No doubt that ‘But I do believe that a story, or better still, a series of stories on a news event can, by its comprehensiveness and aggregation of sources, have more appeal than a series of brief, decentralized takes on the same event, and thus have more “value” to the reader.

        Except that doesn’t happen. If it did, newspapers wouldn’t be in so much trouble in the first place.

        If you have time, check out this discussion at newsless.org and read Martin Langeveld’s comment:
        http://www.newsless.org/2009/01/does-following-the-news-work/

    • Andy Freeman

      > True, you could find other articles with a similar point of view. But they wouldn’t have Carr’s particular point of view, or his unique set of supports for his argument, or his writing style.

      How much value does that “particular”, “unique”, or “his” have and to whom?

      Unique does not imply valuable. In fact, the relevant criteria isn’t unique, but usefully unique.

      Some opinions are usefully unique (or at least rare) and valuable; they can command a high price. The problem that the NYT faces is that its opinions are not usefully unique. So, even if they were valuable, they can’t command a high price.

      The terms “supply” and “demand” are relevant as is “substitution”.

  • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

    Anthony,
    I think you’ve nailed when you said
    “I’m not just buying its information. I’m paying for the convenience of being able to quickly access valuable content from a centralized location and a source I trust.”

    In the Google-Mart economy it is worth money to save time. The fallacy I think in alot of the arguments above is the assumption that people want the news. In fact, the passion for news is a niche market. Just like the passion for politics or the local baseball team are niche markets.

    TV news is on in the background. Newspapers are mostly on in the background. These days, even the internet is part of a multi-tasking browsing. Also it’s important to keep in mind that the number of readers, as opposed to viewers, is also a niche audience. if I remember correctly it takes about 120,000 hardcover buyers to get to bestseller at the NY Times (this may be the wrong number…but I think the order of magnitude is about right.)

    It feels like a mass market if you live on parts of the Internet. But in the real world. Hardly.

    No doubt if you are a news fan, you can find almost anything you might want to read with a little searching..or a lot of searching. But let’s get real. Most people are much to busy with their daily lives to search for the news.

    Where was the thirst for news in the run up to Iraq? Or the thirst for international news, ever? The best chance for news to grow is to figure out how to get a larger niche to find it compelling.

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  • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

    I just found this at
    http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/1518-how-cooks-illustrated-thrives-while-others-are-dying

    Cook’s Illustrated takes no ads and charges for access to its recipes online. According to “Let’s Invent an iTunes for News,” the publication has 900,000 print subscribers (and 100,000 newsstand buyers) and is thriving online with 260,000 digital subscribers at a cost of $35 a year, a group that grew by 30 percent in 2008.

    Nice discussion of why it works at the link.

    • http://blog-o-blog.com Zac Echola

      http://siteanalytics.compete.com/cooksillustrated.com+allrecipes.com/?metric=uv

      Guess which site can continue to scale to a larger share of the market?

      Even if All Recipes sells impressions at an extremely low rate of 25 cents an impression, they’re already making more money in a month than Cook’s makes all year through $35/year digital subscriptions. Plus, they make money through other means, like premium memberships (which include magazine sales), personalized cookbooks, etc.

      And, they’re still growing at a rate of 30%.

      The walled garden is a futile model online, no matter which industry you look at.

      • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

        @Zac,
        It’s not a zero sum game. Different strokes for different folks. Does it really matter which site “wins”. Unless you are investing stock, I guess. It does show that people really like to cook. Much more mass market than following the news.

      • http://blog-o-blog.com Zac Echola

        Micheal, business doesn’t work like that. It’s all about money and growth. If you have two options, 1) make less money providing a great product or 2) make more money providing a great product, why would any sane business person choose option 1? Especially when option 2 means they can afford to go out on a limb more often.

        A fast growing model like AllRecipes has implemented means they can, if they so choose, come into the content niche that Cooks Illustrated provides. AllRecipes could afford to sell ad free versions of the site for a lot cheaper than $35/year.

        That leaves Cooks on the defensive, which is not a position any business should be in on the Web right now.

  • http://reason.com Matt Welch

    Also, “Web-based media site”? WTF?

  • Mike Manitoba

    I’m not sure that the mass market gives a damn whether journalism in any form lives or dies.

    • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

      The secret of Cook’s is they have a customers who really care about Cooking. AND they have experts going deep into the science, the stuff, the processes, etc etc. And, as you point out, they have multiple revenue streams. Like the NewYorker.

    • http://evilpundit.mee.nu/ Evil Pundit

      I give a damn.

      Like many, many others, I hope journalism dies, the quicker the better.

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  • http://garciainteractive.com/blog/ John Duncan

    You’re right, free is a business model. It’s just not a very good one if everyone tries to clamber aboard. And when we look back at a distance on the past 5 years we might be better positioned to see the harm it ultimately did to creativity and investment in real innovation. In the end, customers making decisions about what to buy and what not to buy is good.

    If you are just producing information that is available free elsewhere then of course it is silly to try to charge for it. But the march of the free simply meant a focus on cheap largely fungible content that brought down the barriers to entry and tempted some of our best entrepreneurs down blind alleys lined with low costs. Too much money has been invested producing copycat cheapskate businesses that can be free, rather than answering the very sensible age-old question: “What can I do that people might value enough to pay for? And if people won’t pay for what I am doing, then why am I doing it?”” It’s going to be ugly for a while but it will be better in the end.

    Death to the free: Why the recession is (ultimately) good for online publishing
    http://garciainteractive.com/blog/view/29/

    • http://www.webtransplant.com Evan Rudowski

      Right on, John.

      It’s just plain irresponsible to reject a paid content model out-of-hand, and keep pushing journalists hellbent down the path of free.

      Most journalists will not earn enough from “free” to boost themselves into the ranks of the successfully self-employed, or even better into the ranks of successful entrepreneurs. Therefore, teaching them to focus solely on “free” merely serves to reinforce the plantation system that has kept many journalists as low-paid serfs in newsrooms across America and the world.

      Of course now the newspaper model is collapsing, so instead many of these journalists will find themselves on new online plantations.

      The responsible thing to do is to teach journalists that there are multiple models, including paid for content that’s worth paying for. Journalists need to learn to think like entrepreneurs and come up with ways of creating content that makes money from multiple sources (nor are free and paid mutually exclusive).

      But unfortunately we do not hear this from Jeff Jarvis, and this is what makes me so disappointed in him. Jeff has set himself up as an educator, of young students (at CUNY) and of old-school executives. Yet his adamant rejection of paid content means he’s presenting an incomplete picture. He’s not objective, as the best educators tend to be. He’s adamantly biased.

      When we hear about the proposals from Jeff’s CUNY class on new business models for news, we hear names of projects but not the business models behind them. I wonder why. Is it because there’s no model, other than free? It’s great to come up with ideas, but how do they get paid for?

      Kind regards,
      Evan Rudowski

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  • Guy Love

    Itunes recently capitulated on DRM music. Why? Because Amazon began competing with them and sold only DRM-free music. Consumers bought from Amazon because they did not want to hassle with DRM music from Itunes. The same goes for video games, PC video games are DRM’ing themselves into the ground and that is why console video games are ramping up. Consumers don’t want any hassles. They want speed and ease of use. If it is a hassle to access the news they will go elsewhere thanks to Google.

    News will survive as a complimentary business that enhances the consumer experience. The company that disseminates the news will need additional revenue streams to support gathering it. Selling the news by itself is probably not practical for the long haul as a business model.

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  • http://www.bourbonbird.wordpress.com Brad

    Opinions can be unique, and opinions can be sold. Whether unique at their crux or unique in their delivery, well-crafted news stories and opinion pieces can be sold like songs on iTunes. Only, it may be very difficult to do and make very little money.

    Truth is, I wouldn’t give a penny’s worth of piss for Jarvis’ opinions.

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  • Ryan Biggs

    “Allentown” is probably not the best example, but a good song is worth owning because you will want to listen to it over and over again. THAT is why the iTunes model does not work for news journalism.

    We should be discussing the SPOTIFY model, where one flat subscription rate would get me access to (almost) every imaginable news journalism publication imaginable, and publishers/journalists get paid based on how often their content is accessed.

    I happily pay $10/month for the Spotify music service, and it feels good to be legit after years of illegal downloading. I would be thrilled to have a similar solution for news media.

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