Hyperdistribution

The newspaper industry should be sobered by Martin Langeveld’s calculations, based on the Newspaper Association of America’s misplaced bragging about Nielsen internet data, that only about a half one one percent of time spent online is spent on newspaper sites.

It is clear that if journalists want to be supported – let alone have impact and influence and find their days worthwhile – they need more people to spend more time with news. I believe they should be doing the opposite of what is being suggested in many quarters: clamping down controls to try to fight aggregators and search engines, threatening to build pay walls, consolidating content into destinations they’d have to work harder to get people to visit.

Right now, news organizations should be trying to reach more people and engage with them more deeply. They should seek hyperdistribution.

Since when did it become OK for media people to shrink their audiences? Since they gave up on the ad model, that’s when. But I am not ready to surrender to the idea that advertising, which has supported mass media since its creation, is over. Yes, ad rates are lower; welcome to competition. That’s all the more reason why publishers must attract larger audiences publics – make it up on volume – as well as more targeted and valuable communities.

In my presentation at the Aspen Institute on CUNY’s New Business Models for News Project, I listed some of these opportunities, even though we didn’t build them into our first models because we wanted a conservative base case. Next we are building blow-out models incorporating these means, many built on the principles of the link economy:

* Reverse-syndication. We suggest that the new news organization (NNO) we envision in our ecosystem can create highly targeted content that can be distributed on the sites of other members of the network. So, for example, a new news org could create voting guides for every state assembly member and all the hyperlocal bloggers in the state could offer them to their readers. This content could carry both metro and hyperlocal advertising sold by and benefiting both sites. It is in the NNO’s interest to help these bloggers succeed. Thus they should collaborate on creating and distributing everything from news to calendars to functionality.

In the link economy, value is created by he who creates content and she who delivers audience. So in this networked ecosystem, large players and small will find ways to mutually create and share in more value.

* The embeddable paper. Once you embrace hyperdistribution, then you’ll find new and simple ways to get readers to become distributors. In this post I suggested that we should enable any content to be placed in YouTube-like players that carry brand, advertising, states, and links.

Lo and behold, Silicon Alley Insider just made it possible to embed its stories on this blog or anywhere. In fact, you don’t need to follow that link above; you can read the story below (and I imagine it won’t be long before there’s an ad there, along with the Insider’s branding, links, and data collection).

* API The New York Times has an API (application programming interface) enabling developers to incorporate its headlines, driving traffic to NYTimes.com. NPR and the BBC have APIs that enable others to use more content; as public broadcasters, their goal is simply broader distribution. The Guardian’s API offers full content but requires developers to join its ad network. Thus the Guardian wants to get its journalism into the fabric of the web, as they put it, and support it at the same time. Fingers crossed that it works.

* Specialization. One-size-fits-all news was a product of our means of production and distribution and a very small number of topics aside, that just won’t cut it anymore. Whether by geography, interest, or community, news must become far more specialized. In the link economy, this is how content rises in search to be discovered and it is how value is added with advertising.

Specialization sounds like a way to decrease, not increase audience but with the efficiencies specialization enables, many more publics can be served more deeply and each is bound to be more engaged. In our New Business Models for News projections, we ended up – to our surprise – with an equivalent number of journalists working in our hypothetical ecosystem when compared with the legacy newsroom, but these journalists were all covering much more specialized topics in much greater depth, creating more journalism for more communities than before. Specialization becomes a way to grow.

* Social engagement. In our NewBizNews models, we projected 12 page views per user per month because this is in line with existing news sites and thus, a conservative assumption. But it’s also a shameful assumption.

Local news networks that are truly a part of communities – owned and operated by their communities – will surely have much higher engagement. The fact that Facebook – which brings communities elegant organization, just as newspapers endeavor to do – gets hundreds of pageviews per month per user should be a lesson and model for news networks.

If news organizations – pardon me – asked what Google, Facebook, Twitter, and craigslist would do, they would define themselves as platforms more than content creators and controllers. They would act as networks rather than destinations. Once again, this gives them not only distribution and engagement but efficiency.

I have stood in and before no end of conferences when I or someone else recalls what that student said in The New York Times said a year ago: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” Waiting for her to come to our site won’t work – and it especially won’t work if, once a peer links her to our site, she finds a wall. No, we have to take news to her.

At Aspen, Google’s Marissa Mayer told the assembled news machers that they have to find ways to insinuate their content and value into our own hyperpersonal news streams. In other words: This ain’t about getting people to come to your home pages anymore.

You can bet if Mayer is thinking this way, so is Google and so it will find ways to consolidate information about sources across these new means of distribution. It’s still in Google’s interest to tap the tree for Googlejuice. So I say we cannot waste a moment finding more ways to get more people to distribute and engage with news.

  • http://as.long.as Arild Nybø

    Thank you again for sharing your ideas and thoughts, Jeff.

    It’s weird that news corporations want to wall in their main product. Many media corporations in my home country behave in the same way as in the U.S. These days I’m building a company in Norway, trying to do the opposite of what most media leaders are trying to do. Some of my attempts will involve ideas that may look like some of your ideas.

    If todays business models doesn’t work, why not try the opposite? It reminds me of the Seinfeld-episode “The Opposite” where George finally has some success. And his recipe is to do the opposite of what he has always been doing:

    George : Hey, I just found twenty dollars! I tell you this, something is happening in my life. I did this opposite thing last night. Up was down, black was white, good was -

    Jerry: Bad.

    George : Day was -

    Elaine : Night.

    George : Yes!

    Jerry : So you just did the opposite of everything?

    George : Yes. And listen to this, listen to this; her uncle works for the Yankees and he’s gonna get me a job interview. A front office kind of thing. Assistant to the travelling secretary. A job with the New York Yankees! This has been the dream of my life ever since I was a child, and it’s all happening because I’m completely ignoring every urge towards common sense and good judgment I’ve ever had. This is no longer just some crazy notion. Jerry, this is my religion…

  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    You’re finally beginning to get what almost every successful web startup has figured out: Instead of trying to get a high penetration in a single geographic market, it is much easier to pick up a large audience by gathering a tiny percentage of people in each of a vast number of geographies.

    Traditionally, newspapers grew audience by generalizing their product (e.g. by increasing the diversity of subjects covered and by becoming less opinionated or “more objective). In a network based world, you gain audience by becoming more specialized and by developing a more distinctive voice.

    bob wyman

    • Bob P.

      I agree. In my opinion, this is EXACTLY why newspaper Web sites have never really caught on. Sure, there may be other reasons too, but the sites are just so bloated and confusing and overwhelming. Newspapers can’t seem to break free of the mindset that surrounds the ink-on-paper product and cut free their Web sites, Twitter feeds, whatever else they’re trying to do.

  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    Mark Cuban has some suggestions on what technologies the news papers could use to achieve hyperdistribution…

    See: http://blogmaverick.com/2009/08/25/the-internet-is-about-to-change/

    bob wyman

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  • http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroyalty Fitzroyalty

    I think you miss the point on advertising. I suspect many audiences don’t want it, don’t like it and would prefer to consume content without it. The idea that there must be a business model that enables commercial online media is an unfounded assumption. What evidence is there that such a thing must or should exist? I say no such model exists. Hyperlocal online news and content has no functional business model. The motivation to create and publish this content is not measured by tangible cash but by intangible influence.

    • Rob Levine

      >>>The idea that there must be a business model that enables commercial online media is an unfounded assumption.

      Exactly! But it’s an unfounded assumption that is making a bunch of people a ton of money – including Google. That’s why they keep selling this notion – and spreading around donations to make people buy it!

  • Andy Freeman

    > I think you miss the point on advertising. I suspect many audiences don’t want it, don’t like it and would prefer to consume content without it.

    You can “suspect” anything that you’d like, but you’re wrong.

    People like/want advertising that gives them something that they value. However, they hate having their time wasted.

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  • http://www.cornfieldconsulting.com Chris Turner

    I really admire Jeff’s initiative, he’s not just bemoaning newspapers losing revenues, he’s actually trying to find alternatives. But, like Eric above, I believe he’s not there yet although this is still early days.

    However, newspapers can ask Google, Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist all they like, the answer does not lie there. Craigslist is a bone fide successful business built by making something better that newspapers used to do, just not as well. Google makes no money from search, its main function, it makes money from auctioning search terms. Facebook and Twitter have not figured out how to make money at all yet. These are not great examples of how linking may or may not create economic values.

  • http://www.garrettsmith.com Garrett Smith

    With the ever falling cost of publishing content (in all forms) online and the ever growing glut of journalistic talent out there it won’t be long before “commercial content” becomes a function of corporate marketing.

    Just as amateur journalism has taken the net by storm, corporate journalism will soon become as popular – if not more. One only has to look at the growing number of blogs, forums, social networks and the like that are being produced by corporations for their customers and the communities they serve.

    I’d much rather hire an editor, a topical expert, tap a few in-house voices and begin publishing then be beholden to commercial publishers fees, content and efforts. This way you can really target the content produced and the “ads/messages” you display next to it.

    The cost, after start-up would be substantially less and over the long term deliver a higher theoretical ROI.

    So why rent/lease when you can “buy” and “own” at a much cheaper cost and get better results?

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  • http://www.dailypatricia.com patricia

    whatever. at the end of the day, newspapers’ job is bottom line basic: take that enormous existing audience they have reading the print, move to digital. very simple. there is no aggregation or funky tactics or anything else to it.

    • Bob P.

      Patrician: Unfortunately I don’t agree that it’s simple. True, there are still huge numbers of people reading ink on paper. It’s easy to forget that around here. But I doubt most of those people will willing convert to digital, assuming they have the choice. They’ll die off before they quit going to the porch for that wad of newsprint. The growing population who do prefer digital, including the younger generations who haven’t experienced any other way, are not being captured well enough by newspapers — I think because the traditional newspaper doesn’t translate well to digital. Papers really need to be doing two different things at once: paper and digital. The way staffs — and revenues — are getting smaller, that’s tough to do.

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  • http://www.tradonline.fr Mathieu Marechal

    Hi Jeff,
    This comment isn’t directly linked to your post, but I just wanted to thank you for your book, WWGD, just read it…in French (I’m living in Paris, you’ll have to thank you editor here, the translation is really good) and although by the end of the book, I must say that I found you were running out of fresh ideas (+ that some industries just can’t get the Googlization treatment just yet, as personal interests can in some cases outweigh multitudes of “good willed” people working together), there are definitely some enlightening concepts in there ;)
    And your style of writing clearly makes it a page-turner.

    +Thanks to you, I’m now thinking about launching a website in my line of business that would try out this way of doing business.
    I’d be happy to invite you to a forum I’m going to set up to exchange on this start-up idea, if you have time ;)
    Thanks!
    Mathieu

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  • Mary H.

    The impact and mission of journalism, at its core — social change, a watchdog role, transparency, shedding light, afflicting the comfortable, etc. — is dulled by pay walls and closed-off sites. We want people to see what we do, and then act on it! The fewer people who see it, the less effective it is.

    • Andy Freeman

      > The impact and mission of journalism, at its core — social change, a watchdog role, transparency, shedding light, afflicting the comfortable, etc.

      Note that “tell the truth” didn’t make the list. As to the ones that did make list, never confuse advertising with product.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Now I don’t like Jeff Jarvis one bit….

    But this is an excellent post!

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

      What a schoolyard way to say that. “Not like.” How about “often disagree with…” Jeesh.

      • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

        How do you know that I didn’t already euphemize *hate* to “don’t like**????

        This is like dealing with my wife. I could clean the entire house, do all the laundry, mow the lawn, manage the kids, shop for groceries, and cook a sumptous meal….

        She would only be able to see *what I haven’t done*. And this has actually happened, once after an entire day of such toiling she came home and complained about there not being enough mushrooms in the salad!

        I withdraw my compliment. This post is terrible!

        Still on the waitlist for a funny bone transplant, huh? You know they are doing wonders with prosthetics these days.

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