I’ve said before that there’s nobody better at analyzing the plight of newspapers than Alan Mutter. But Alan and I disagree about one thing: the likelihood that newspapers will be able to charge for their content online when their information—news—is quickly commodified and when there is no end of free competition. Mind you, I’ve never said that charging for content is bad. If you can charge, mazel tov! My argument is instead that charging is unlikely to succeed and talk of it lately is another unfortunate example of news executives grasping at straws rather than building the future. I’m writing my Guardian column right now about this game of whack-a-mole and Alan and I are set to debate the topic in the Australian press magazine Walkley.
This no doubt seemed like a slam-dunk argument to Alan. After all, as he notes towards the end of his post, Jarvis even admits in his book that he is “a hypocrite” for not just giving his book away online (although it’s worth noting that you can read the entire thing through his publisher’s website, if you so desire). But I think Jarvis is actually a little too hard on himself in that quote, and that Mutter draws almost exactly the wrong conclusion from this case.
Why? A number of commenters on Reflections of a Newsosaur, including my Nieman colleague Tim Windsor, make the same point that occurred to me: Jarvis has been writing about his theories on content online and new business models, and how more companies should think like Google, for months, and possibly even years. He has been giving those ideas and conclusions away virtually for free (apart from some measly Google AdSense dollars) for most of that time. Anyone can get Jeff’s content whenever they want. But if you want it packaged in a nice and convenient way, such as a book (either the regular or the Kindle kind) then you have to pay.
Jarvis’s content giveaway on his blog, as several people have noted (including Jarvis himself, in a comment on Mutter’s post) effectively marketed — and possibly even created a market — for his ideas, both in book form and in the form of consulting gigs and speaking engagements. Those are ways of adding value to that content. While there isn’t a direct corollary with newspapers and other media outlets, the concept is the same: give away content, and then find ways of adding value to it — packaging it in a convenient form, for example, or adding to it in some useful fashion, creating a relationship around it — and then monetize that.
Alan asks the question “What Would Jarvis Do?” in a sarcastic way, but it’s actually not such a bad question after all.
Thank you, Matthew and Tim.
Here’s what I say in the book about writing a book:
I confess: I’m a hypocrite. If I had followed my own rules—if I had eaten my own dog food—you wouldn’t be reading this book right now, at least not as a book. You’d be reading it online, for free, having discovered it via links and search. You’d be able to correct me, and I’d be able to update the book with the latest amazing stats about Google. We could join in conversations around the ideas here. This project would be even more collaborative than it already is, thanks to the help of readers on my blog. We might form a group of Googlethinkers on Facebook and you’d be able to offer more experience, better advice, and newer ways to look at the world than I alone can here. I wouldn’t have a publisher’s advance but I might make money from speaking and consulting.
But I did make money from a publisher’s advance. That is why you are reading this as a book. Sorry. Dog’s gotta eat.
I already do most everything I describe above, not in this book but on my blog, where ideas are searchable and collaborative and can be updated and corrected—and where I hope conversations sparked by this book will continue. I believe the two forms will come together—that’s part of what this chapter is about. In the meantime, I’m no fool; I couldn’t pass up a nice check from my publisher, Collins, and many services, including editing, design, publicity, sales, relationships with bookstores, a speaker’s bureau, and online help. There’s a reason publishing is still publishing: It still pays. How long can it stay that way? How long should it stay that way?
While we’re on the topic of books, I wish a reader could acquire access to a book with one fee in all media – as a book, an e-book, an iPhone book – and perhaps subscribe to updates. But the system isn’t set up for that – yet.