Can print act like a startup?

From Flickr User mathoov

From Flickr User mathoov

A post by Om Malik this morning has me contemplating an idea that I realize no one who can make the decisions will buy into, but it’s worth considering: As a long-standing, institution can you look at yourself in the mirror, determine that you need to reinvent yourself and say, “Maybe it’s time to act like a startup?”

The inspiration from this comes a little from Om’s really helpful advice on making a freemium model work for a startup company. Pulling on examples like Evernote, Remember the Note and Flickr, the focus is on how to make money off of something for free. First, give a loss-leading service away for nothing (say, access to music, a simple repository for anything), but then set some sort of bar or restraint to where it requires an investment. On Pandora, it’s a certain number of free music hours each month; on Flickr, limited file types and storage. Then the meter starts, and usually it takes away the advertisements often served on free services.

flickr pro

Flickr Pro vs. Flickr Free

This is the exact opposite thinking of a print newspaper. Subscriptions are relatively cheap, but its support is still the department store ads and what’s left of classifieds (read: not much). If you want to adapt, you can’t think like the print beast that has audience stats they want to sell for placements.

The other lesson is don’t try to make the for sale item the exact same as what is currently free. Don’t build a wall around what exists – use that as a carrot into a new garden of content. This is where the success lies in the freemium experiment. The no-cost buy in turns into a necessity. In Om’s case, it turned into a reason to stay with a certain service:

A few weeks ago I decided to move all my data from Dropbox to another online service, Jungledisk. The reason: I wanted to archive all my folders and information from 2008, for which I needed more storage than my current Dropbox account could offer. It was about 45 GB of data, which meant I’d have to upload it to Jungledisk, and even with a really fast connection, it would take forever. Suddenly it dawned on me that the more stuff I put on Dropbox, the more difficult it would become for me to switch to another service. Instead, I upgraded to 100 Gb a year.

So it isn’t building a wall – it’s more like a picket-fence. You can see a little bit of the light through it, and for many people, that’s enough of a peek at what’s on the other side. The business will come from those who want to look at all of the space you have to offer, and that means that if you make it lush, unique and necessary, they will.

It’s up to newspapers to stop thinking they can charge for what has been available. It’s really about finding what the incentive is beyond just what the audience has already enjoyed. This goes against everything you thought for the last century. Tough. Sometimes you have to adapt – because the advertisers are going elsewhere. Make the content the service, not a frame for ads and there is success to be had.

Morning Reading 8 28 09

Is News “Too Cheap to Meter”?

(cc) Flickr user sashafatcat

I’m not an economist. I’m going to start right now with that point. I took AP Econ like, nine years ago. I did fine, but, I’m in communications for a reason. I did get one basic principle: supply and demand. Lots of one product, and the demand for it is low.

So, with that waiver, I’m going to try my best. Before moving forward too quickly, let’s assume this: not all content – media that can be defined as 1) intellectually developed 2) created and original, not excluding fair-use modifications and 3) potentially portable – is created equal. There is a wide range of production from John Woo to your cell phone’s camera. Most “content” is somewhere between there.

Some content is scarce: the hundred million dollar budget movie, for example. I’m not talking about that stuff from here on out. I am talking about a magical place where the barrier to entry is so low that it creates a flood of potential players: the Internet.

I just finished Chris Anderson’s Free and I thought it was an incredible overview of what drives and creates a “Free-conomy.” I’m dwelling on one thing the most a day later. Anderson talked about the rate at which certain things get cheap – transistors, metals, etc. – as we find more efficient ways to create them. The decline is steep and exponential. At some point, you realize you can keep shrinking the price, but the nanocents just aren’t worth collecting and it rounds down to zero. It’s just “too cheap to meter.”

Based on that idea: is news – observational information summarized into a story to increase awareness – too cheap to meter?

In the last decades, we found a more efficient way to get information out than newsprint and printing presses. We found a cheaper way than satellites. We found a bottomless pit of a news room staff. It’s damn near free to create. All of these forces equalize the value of the words in each article, Tweet, blog post, and the like. Therefore, it is up to the reader to determine the content’s validity – a frighteningly scary thought for those who love fact checkers – and *gasp* it’s authority based on how much they trust the source. The creator of the content, actually, in effect the producer, does not determine the value.

It is so abundant that it can’t be controlled from above, and its value is already being measured by the user. There is no opportunity cost for content other than time.

So, yes, general news and information is too cheap to meter.

Perceived, user-generated authority is more powerful than any ounce of user-generated content. Once the audience sets how much they are willing to pay for something – time, money, or any other resource (which, in the age of the link economy, includes the respect of URL) – there’s no turning back. The massive online portals did not have an institution to rest on to build a reputation, they had to earn it the hard way in an unbelievably competitive world. And some – not all of them – did.

Newspapers want to be branded from their top mastheads, yet they want to label the bloggers from the bottom denominator. That’s (a) unfair and (b) not their fault. It’s the product of ancient, hierarchy thinking that doesn’t fit in when the economy isn’t set by revenue but by other forms of recompense.

When the barrier of entry is low, nearly everyone who wants a seat at the table gets one; but the smart host only pays attention to the smart people. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t impossible to get invited, though. The information flows regardless of who’s being paid attention to, and that means that if someone decides they want to be exclusive, someone else can jump in quite easily.

So – the news isn’t what you monetize. That horse is well beyond the stable. Content is intellectual, portable and original. Stick to that last one and you’ll see just what to serve.

Digging Out

Back from a few days off the grid, so I’m digging out of the e-mail and reader stash. Luckily, every now and then, I get something good in the e-mail that works to fill in some content.

For a short clip that does a great job gathering all of the surrounding peripherals of Rupert Murdoch’s announcement to go behind the wall, take some time and watch the clip below. Thanks to Rosa over at Newsy for sending it along:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’ll have some more on my opinion and thoughts throughout the rest of the week…especially now that I’ve gotten through Chris Anderson’s gamechanging new book, Free. Stay tuned…

Was this the face that launched 2.0-thousand ships?

I fired through my google reader and e-mail late yesterday afternoon and I had picked up an e-mail from a friend about songs she thought I would like and should learn. Quickly, I trotted to iTunes, found the various artists and tunes she mentioned, and started researching through the songwriters.

Ten years ago it wasn’t this easy.

I sort my music by the date it was added to my library. The first songs I downloaded, way back in 1998, they are all still there. We’re coming up on a pretty remarkable anniversary in the next few months. 10 years ago, MP3s went from being back-traded on geek channels like mIRC and ICQ to mainstream forms of music.

Say what you want about web content growing, the anyone’s-a-developer blog revolution, and the transition away from print media. We are nowhere near Web 2.0 (or what point-oh we are at these days) without the growth of music distribution through the internet.

Think about it this way. What did MP3s do? Within the gray-lines of the DMCA, we took massive files of music that were seemingly tethered down, and made them digestible quantities of only a couple of megs (true geek moment here: at the average 128 kbps, the 3 minutes song clocks in pretty close to the 4 mb range. In wav or cd formats, that’s about 45 megs), and started figuring out we could pass them back and forth.

When Peer-2-Peer sharing went to the masses, it changed the internet. Napster did that. It broke down the geek barrier of entry. The normal internet consumer realized they could become each others content providers. That was the tipping point.

The first ever social media was music. It went from record store conversations to consumable bits that anyone could pass around their own channels.

Blogs are just technology. But until we realized that we could provide each other with valid content, the vehicle wouldn’t be necessary.

Napster gave us the first sign, in 1999, that the users could reach each other across the Internet, without a middle man. Without the understanding that we could share, we wouldn’t. That to me is what makes Web 2.0.


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