Jan 14, 2009

What's it worth?

There's a deadline fast approaching in Denver and a domino falling in Seattle; little in the way of good news out of Minneapolis and a couple Horsemen on their way to Los Angeles; mandatory and unpaid furloughs for Gannett employees and yet more advertisers slipping into bankruptcy; the layoffs that were and the layoffs that could be...

So it's time to break out Occam's razor to cut through the foggy notions of new business models and instead apply the most straightforward model we can think of to keep newsrooms running. Rather than twisting ourselves in knots trying to invent exotic ways to extract value from secondary or even tertiary transactions (we saw how that shit played on Wall Street), shouldn't we try a more straightforward approach?

Ryan Chittum at CJR is the latest (that I've read) to say news organizations need to charge for the news if they want to survive.

I agree - and not only because newsrooms need money. Rightly or wrongly, we value things more when we get them at a cost. When something costs us nothing, we generally assign it the same value.

But money is not the only way to measure cost. There's blood, sweat, tears, etc. The key here is that a transaction needs to take place - a transaction that both sustains the newsroom and imbues value to the reader.

The transaction might not save newspapers in their present form - although I think our innovators would do well to reconsider the benefits of the newspaper form - and the transaction might look different from our present subscription system. There are multiple ways to extract/imbue value. Nonprofits, cooperatives, foundations and grants will all have a place, I'm sure.

On the for-profit side, one idea floating about is called "micropayments." It seems to follow the logic of Apple's iTunes, which is alluring on one level and disturbing on another. My concern is that it rewards popularity above all else and encourages hit-count lust. Perhaps there are ways to guard against this, perhaps not.

All of this being said, I do worry about a scarcity of links available to bloggers, aggregators and various online communities once "cost" is reapplied to the information economy. But I think this is the place where we need to exert our inventiveness, rather than get stuck working the financial Rubik's cube as the ship sinks.

1 comment:

Edward Barrera said...

There is bigger issue for all those in the "ad revenue will save us" camp.
What if hits and unique visitors don't matter all that much? Don't know if this is a trend, but I keep hearing that advertisers want to see a better return for the money they spend.
They want to see a measurable result. Just because you get a bunch of hits isn't going to cut it any more. (maybe).
(I know I said I wouldn't but couldn't help myself.)