Posts about paidcontent

Rupert has balls

Tweet: Rupert has balls. Well, he used to.

That’s the essence of Murdoch: balls. It’s the essence of the culture of News Corp., which I learned from working there (at TV Guide): Australian macho seat-of-the-pants instant decision making.

That is the secret to Murdoch’s success. It is also the secret to his failure: Sometimes his balls land on red, sometimes on black. Murdoch plays the odds but he does it by making big bets. He can do that because he’s a mogul; they’re his balls. Companies that are ruled by task forces don’t act like him; they overthink to convince themselves they’re making smart decisions (like merging with AOL). News Corp. underthinks.

So I don’t buy the worship of those who think that Murdoch must know something we don’t know, that he’s inscrutable and brilliant and so one mustn’t question his actions – as in the case of pay walls and Google – for fear of missing some Yoda moment. No, sometimes Murdoch wins his bets, sometimes he loses.

He almost lost the company once with bad bets with debt. He bet big on U.S. satellite (and then said, oh, nevermind). He bet huge on China but now admits it’s tough. He wasted a fortune and a decade and any hope of an internet strategy on Delphi (where I worked) and Iguide. MySpace – need I say more?

But he bet big on sports and keeps winning as a result. He started a fourth network against all odds. He launched successful satellites elsewhere in the world and won. He won and lost but so far has still won more than he lost and that’s why he’s a winner.

What’s sad about the Murdoch family’s pathetic mewling about Google as if it were a big, bad bully kicking sand in their face and their desperate, cliff-grabbing speculation about pay walls is that neither is a big bet. Neither shows any vision. Neither shows balls. That’s why I have no faith in the argument that Yoda – or Jabba the Murdoch, if you prefer – has one more up his sleeve. No, son James Murdoch just said News Corp isn’t a news corp anymore but a TV company. They’ve given up. They’re just hoping to squeeze one more pint of milk out of old Bessie before they turn her into fajitas.

You want to look to an executive who has a strategy and fearlessly executes it, look to Jobs. Bezos, too. You want big-picture vision, see the Google boys. Charisma? Obama. Experience? Well, that was Jack Welch, until the value of experience expired.

Murdoch? He has balls. Big ones.

Worthless readers

Tweet: Worthless readers. And what to do about Murdoch et al’s whining about them.

One response publishers make to my argument that Google drives value to them and their content in the link economy is that the readers Google sends are worthless.

Worthless readers. WIliam Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, Joseph Medill, Katherine Graham, and C.P. Scott are rolling (with pained laughter) in their graves. Since when did readers become worthless? Since when did a newspaper have enough readers?

“We can’t monetize those readers,” the hapless publishers whine. What’s the problem with these readers? “They read just one article and then leave,” is one complaint. “We can’t sell enough ads,” is another. And how is that Google’s fault?

No, this is the publishers’ failure and fault, not Google’s. Only the publishers can fix it. That they would rather complain than try is only evidence that they have given up on growth, on optimism, on the future. Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, have said they would rather shrink to more valuable (read: paying) customers, but then James has also said that News Corp. is no longer a news company but a TV company. It’s one matter to get rid of readers who cost too much because your trucks drive too far to deliver newspapers to them or you bribe them too often with bingo/wingo or sneakerphones to get them to subscribe. But online, more readers costs you nothing but bandwidth, which keeps on costing less. So Murdoch pere et fils have surrendered.

I choose not to. I say there is plenty they could do:

1. Relevance. Publishers should provide more relevant links and content to satisfy and serve these readers. I learned at About.com, where I consulted, that the most effective means of driving more traffic into the site, rather than away, was relevant links. Readers may come via search but may not find what they are looking for, so offer them more. If someone came to your restaurant for the crab cakes, wouldn’t you also offer slaw?

2. Context. I want to suggest abandoning the article for the constantly updated topic page (a la Wave). The problem with an article online is that it has a short half life and gathers few links and little ongoing attention and thus Googlejuice. It’s for this reason that Google’s Marissa Mayer has been advising publishers to move past the article to the topic. Abandoning the article for some living, breathing news beast yet to be defined may be a bit too radical for today’s publishers. So instead, I suggest, at least place the article into a space with broader context – archives, quotes, photos, links, discussion, wikified knowledge about the topic, feeds of updates; make the article a gateway to anything more you’d want on its subjects. Daylife (where I’m a partner) is working on something like that.

3. Sell. When someone comes in from search without a cookie attached, you know this person is not a regular reader. Yet you give her the same page you give to your constant readers. What you should do, instead, is sell the wonders of your site. Show off your best and most popular stuff. I’ve heard and used the phrase “every page a home page” for years, but I’ve never seen a publisher mean it, except for Stockholm’s Aftonbladet. Go to the site, click on most any store, and scroll down and you will find the entire home page replicated. Insane? Like a Swede.

4. Sell ads. OK, so this search-driven reader may not be local and so you can’t serve an ad for the hospital up the street. What sites do instead is place remnant network ads there at terribly low CPMs; that is why they complain about the value of readers who come from Google, Drudge, et al. But Dave Morgan’s Tacoda solved – at least until it was swallowed up by AOL [pardon me, Aol.] – by using data points across sites to maximize the value of ads served (e.g., someone who visits a travel site is served a high-CPM travel ad even after leaving and going to a harder-to-target local site). I’ve been arguing for reverse syndication as a means of maximizing ad value and even suggested that papers should link together to sell their national inventory (oh, that’s right, they tried to in the New Century Network but couldn’t get their act together … surprise!).

5. Kill commodity news and cost. Focus. Part of the problem is that papers carry commodity content that draws audience – via search – that is hard to target with local advertising. That commodity content also costs money to produce. A key imperative of the link economy is that one must specialize – to draw the “right” audience and to find the efficiency that comes from doing what you do best and linking to the rest. The better job a paper does focusing, the more it can create appropriate content to attract appropriate audience and advertising and the more economically it can operate.

6. Stop whining. It’s unbecoming. It makes you look weak and wimpy as if you have no strategy and no control over your vision and have just given up on adapting to new realities and growing by finding new audience and building a future but only plan to milk the last drops out of your dying business. Or maybe that’s all true.

: See Danny Sulllivan, who beat me to writing this post.

This is round two against Google. In round one, some publishers said Google steals our content. Google’s response was that it sends them millions of visitors for free. So in round two, it’s time to make out like those visitors aren’t worth much. That’s especially important if you’re an executive who, after floating the idea of dropping Google, comes under attack as stupidly cutting your own throat.

Me, I see visitors as opportunities. This is the internet, where you can tell far more about a visitor to your web site than you can in print. . . .

Do something. Anything. Please. Survive. But there’s one thing you shouldn’t do. Blame others for sending you visitors and not figuring out how to make money off of them.

See also Umair Haque: “Blocking Google is about as smart as eating a pound of plutonium.”

: On Twitter, Steven Johnson asks: “unless they’re “worth less” than the cost of serving the page, what’s the harm since Google delivers them for free?”

Gained something in the translation

Tweet: A tweet paraphrased my link-economy line and showed me I’ve been saying more than I thought I have. **

In Twitter today, one @rpaskin paraphrased something I’ve been saying – and said again in my talk at Web 2.0 Expo Tuesday (generously covered in that link by Aneta Hall). My line has been that in the link economy, value comes from the creator of the content and from the creator of a public (formerly known as an audience). That is, Rupert’s wrong with he says that Google takes content; it gives attention.

Anyway, @rpaskin tweeted this: “In a link economy, there are values from creating content and linking to content. There’s no value in just reproducing content (Jeff Jarvis).”

I didn’t say that exactly but I think it better expressed what I have been trying to say. Or at least it added a perspective and raised a fundamental and important question, namely:

Is there value anymore in reproducing content? Is the six-century-long reign of Guttenberg and the industries he created really over?

Wow. Maybe so. In my discussions of the link economy, I had been concentrating on explaining and defending the side of the value equation brought by Google, aggregators, blogger, Twitter, et al rather than on the loss of value brought to those who reproduced – rather than created – content. But in looking at the entire equation, what @rpaskin says stands to reason: There is no value left over for the copiers. Indeed, online, if one copies, one is considered a thief because it’s only the thieves who copy.

The problem is, of course, that it was through the making and selling of copies that monetary value was extracted and that is why it is so upsetting to those who did so that they can’t do it anymore. It’s upsetting that they don’t see other ways to recognize value. It’s what makes folks including Murdoch say silly things that betray ignorance about the workings of our new world.

I’m sure Rupert knows exactly how the scribes Guttenberg put out of business felt.

ALSO: Speaking of speaking of Murdoch, you can hear me doing so – along with Michael Wolf and Steven Brill – on Murdoch’s tilting against Google’s energy-efficient windmills.

** Once again, I’m experimenting with using tweets about posts as subheds summarizing those posts.

’nuff said

Dilbert.com

(Thanks, Ed Reading)

Google to the rescue?

Yesterday I tweeted about Google’s offer to bring its checkout to enable micropayments for newspapers: “A cynical act, I’d say: a tool no one uses used to coopt foes on a useless quest.” In response, Charlie Williams tweeted, “How about savvy & low risk?” And I said that savvy and cynicism are by no means mutually exclusive.

The Stern Broadcasting Corp.

In today’s Daily News, David Hinckley and Talkers’ Michael Harrison speculate that when Howard Stern’s Sirius XM contract is up, he could use the internet to start his own broadcasting company.

Indeed, he could. Technology makes it possible: We could listen to him – and watch him – on the internet, on our iPods, and even now on our web-enabled phones. There’s no longer a need for a distribution network.

The numbers could be impressive. Stern brought an estimated 6-8 million listeners to Sirius. I’ve talked with a measurement company that did a study on his impact on satellite and concluded that a majority of users were there and paying $12.95 a month because of him. So say that half those people – 3.5 million – would pay half that much – $6 – to get Stern anywhere and on-demand. That’s $252 million. Absurd? OK, so charge $1 a month; that’s $42 million (though at a lower price, the volume would surely increase). Add in a little ad revenue but not much, judging on the crap accounts Sirius has been getting. Marketing? Stern doesn’t need it because his audience is his agency. And Stern doesn’t need to share any of that with Sirius XM. His only cost is his staff and bandwidth. Ah, but you say, he made a reported $500 million for his five-year Sirius contract. But I believe some of that came in equity and as a shareholder, I can tell you that isn’t doing so well. The point is, who’s going to sniff at tens of millions of dollars a year? If it doesn’t work, the risk is minimal. So why not?

Hinckley’s point is that the internet enables Stern to have complete freedom, control, and ownership, which is ideal for a control freak like Stern.

Would I pay for Stern? I already do; he’s why I subscribed to Sirius. I’m just unhappy that I can’t get him on-demand on my iPod and iPhone.

Irony that I’m endorsing paying for content when I scoff at news organizations charging? No. I’ve long said that we do and will pay for unique performances – and Stern is unique. News is information, a commodity once known; that’s what makes it hard to charge for. Mere opinion is abundant. Performance has value, in music, in comedy, or even in news.

Who else would I pay? Jon Stewart could charge (though we’d get less time and he probably has higher cost). My list pretty much ends there. How about you?

Rupert charges

The Guardian asked me for quick comment on news that Rupert Murdoch, Mr. MySpace, plans to charge for content. I pulled off the road on my way home and wrote this.

One line trimmed out for space: The debate has been about emotions and entitlement, not economics.

Pay = “mass delusion”: Schiller

I know I’m a day late, but I can’t resist quoting Vivianne Schiller, head of NPR and former head of NYTimes.com, in Newsweek on paid content. Mind you, she is one of the few executives in the industry with real experience on the subject.

Q: While employed by The New York Times, you helped the newspaper stop charging for online content. Now it’s reconsidering. Generally, why do you oppose paying for content?

A: I am a staunch believer that people will not in large numbers pay for news content online. It’s almost like there’s mass delusion going on in the industry—They’re saying we really really need it, that we didn’t put up a pay wall 15 years ago, so let’s do it now. In other words, they think that wanting it so badly will automatically actually change the behavior of the audience. The world doesn’t work that way. Frankly, if all the news organizations locked pinkies, and said we’re all going to put up a big fat pay wall, you know what, more traffic for us. News is a commodity; I’m sorry to say.

Q: But the Times did get people to pay, right?
A: We far exceeded our expectation—225,000 subscribers paid $50 a year, in addition to the home delivery subscribers, who got all of the Web for free. But guess what, that’s $10 million. Instead of 225,000 who pay the $50, let’s say it’s one million subscribers. OK. That’s $50 million a year. That’s not going to save any newspaper. It’s going to kill your advertising base. The numbers don’t work.

I also like her coinage that what we’re trying to protect is not much vaunted investigative journalism but instead “accountability journalism,” which includes beat reporters, watchdogs.

In the New Business Models for News Project, I hope to speculate on how NPR and its affiliates could play a key role enabling local networks of accountability journalism.