Sunday, 28 June 2009

Charge for online content - kill the online audience

So here it is again, raising its ugly head - 'newspaper' companies scrabbling around looking at ways of generating revenue by charging for content.

Charging for online content is an old fashioned business model which is the last resort of old fashioned businesses.

It's not how the web works or how readers use the web.

The latest last gasp of desperation of the innovativeless business leaders was sparked by Rupert Murdoch who recently suggested that his monopoly of media businesses would look into developing a model for charging users subscriptions.

When Rupert speaks, the world listens.

The newspaper industry has been slow to evolve with the rapid pace of new media. The charging for online content policy is the fall back position for an industry which has leaders who are failing to innovate. And that is to the detriment of the sustained future of journalism and online news.

It is a crisis. How do you make money from online content?

But it isn't a crisis which the newspaper industry has faced alone. The music industry has been there and done that.

The music industry has faced the online revolution in clear stages. Initially there was denial, then there was panic as sales and revenue nose dived, then there was innovation and experimentation (including ye olde fall back - charging for content) and now there's the first sign of a solution - Spotify.

The problem with making money online (or not) doesn't lie with the content producers - the journalists. It lies with the money men. The ad staff have failed to take the web by the horns. And as a result news companies are now desperately looking at ways of countering falling revenues, partly due to the recession, but mainly because of a failure to fully capitalise on opportunities digital has offered mainstream media companies.

For too long they were allowed to bury their heads in the sand.

So now back to the trusted fallback.

To make online charging work, whether that be via subscription, or pay per click (however much that may be) news companies will need to produce content which isn't being served by the world's media, or the world's bloggers. And if you can find a niche willing to pay, it won't be your niche for long, as the BBC or the legions of bloggers will come charging (or rather not) over the hill.

But to end at the beginning: Charge for content - kill off your audience. Where's the revenue in that?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Simple Minds on Twitter - I'm not talking about journalists (... ok I am)

Twitter is now everywhere. It's mainstream. It's the new black. It's how oppressed protesters communicate and how the world's media follows those protests. It's how the world's celebrities communicate and how the world expresses its reaction to the death of celebrities.

It's been knocking around for a few years now, but this year Twitter fever has taken hold. It's like swine flu - but bigger.

And I know you already know all this because you're on it, and you've read about it, and heard about it, and you've got the t-shirt.

So I won't go on, except to say I saw a very interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday.

Jim Kerr, lead singer of Simple Minds (@jimkerr09), was crowdsourcing opinion on the price of tickets to see live shows. Brilliant.

He asked:
His followers weren't slow in voicing their opinions, luckily for Mr K, all said Minds ticket prices were value for money.

This isn't the first time he's asked for opinions. One of the first questions he asked the Twitter family shortly after joining up was which song they think should be the first single from the band's excellent new album Graffiti Soul. What resulted was one song for Germany and another for the rest of the world.

Whether that had anything to do with the opinions expressed on Twitter is doubtful, but it goes to show that the lead singer isn't afraid of rolling his sleeves up and getting down and dirty with his followers/fans. Asking questions, fielding questions, being part of the community.

Journalists could learn a lot.

After years of almost non-existent marketing, Simple Minds now appear to be making waves again. And it is no coincidence that Jim has been spearheading the campaign himself using social media as one of the main tools to get the band back on the public radar.

Of course it helps that he's got a great album to shout about.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Journalists rise up and retake the newsroom ... I'll give you a banana!

Another thing that digital guru MarkMedia Comerford raises in the interview mentioned in the previous post, is about technology and the journalist.

Many journalists are forever proclaiming their own ineptitude when it comes to anything technical in the newsroom.
And that is to the detriment of journalism.

In the interview with Medie varlden, Mark says:

Journalists must understand the technology, otherwise we are transmitting power to the techies. Red Key Skills are a big problem
You bring a monkey into a room and it learns that there is a large red button and if you press it, you get a banana. If you then insert it into a warehouse full of bananas but with no red button, it will starve to death. So it is with journalists who do not understand the new technology.

The only way for journalists to regain the newsroom and regain the reigns of the rapidly evolving industry, is for them to take on the technology.

Many newsrooms are currently in the hands of the techies, or the backroom boys and girls who very often flex their technical superiority by saying, "It can't be done."

Bollocks to that.

Journalists need to now take back control away from the techies by arming themselves with a greater knowledge of the technology and what it can do for journalism.

I'm not saying we all need to become programmers or IT specialists, but I am saying understand what can and can't really be done.

Then we need to ask the question of the technical support staff: "This is what I want to do, how can you make it happen?"

Knowledge is power, and currently the power is in the wrong hands.

Now where's that red button?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

What to do with the newsroom anti-digitalists: "Fire the fuckers"

Every newsroom has its anti-digitalists. Yes still, after all the goings on in the industry, where the future of news has never looked more clearly digital, there are still those who proclaim proudly their disdain for the web.

And they are very often very vocal about their beliefs. "The internet is killing newspapers," is their favourite chant. Before turning to to update their Facebook status.

While many are just simply taking a vain stance against an inevitable digital future others are simply blustering, like the person who pretends he can't use a mobile phone.

My response to these people is to show them what digital can provide them. Clever use of SEO can simply bring more eyes to their work. Clever use of social media, can widen their sphere of influence as well as enhancing their contacts book beyond the restrictions which they are used to. Etc, etc.

All basic steps which make a huge difference for a journalist. And all the subject of training.

But how far do you go, and how long do you wait for the digital penny to drop?

In a recent interview, one of the forerunners of the digital news revolution, and a leading digital journalist trainer, Mark Comerford, clearly and characteristically draws a very verbal line in the sand.

If journalists aren't willing to develop and adapt, then "fire the fuckers," he tells Medie varlden in Sweden.

Strong words - particularly in Swedish "Brand jävlar" (if Google Translator is to be believed).

The man who set up Europe's first newspaper website (Aftonbladet) explains that those who are hostile to the web have an "unwillingness to see the future" and take "security in looking backwards".

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The egg that lays itself: When the advertising is the thing that attracts the eyeballs

It's that age old debate which has rumbled on in newsrooms around the world: Which department is most important, editorial or advertising?

Ad staff obviously say they are the engine of the operation bringing in the wages with the column inches they sell.

Meanwhile, the journalists say you won't have any advertising without the quality penned journalism.

Chicken or egg anyone?

When the egg can lay itself, who needs the chicken.

As fewer and fewer eyeballs are boring into our pages, does that mean the journalism is any less good?

But online there's eyeballs galore - but are they looking for quality journalism? Or are they looking for the latest news on the soaps, girlie pic galleries, etc?

And then you look at what online services and products the major 'news' organisations are launching online. Business directories. Credit card services. Etc. Etc.

Traditional newspaper-style display ads like banners and buttons just haven't brought in the revenue. So news companies are now widening their sights.

In the case of business directories, news company advertising departments are going back to the tried and trusted - local advertising for local people.

But the trouble with service-based advertising is that the service itself is the attraction.

If I want a local florist I'll go to the business directory and find myself a florist. I don't want to read articles about florists, or read how one local florist has been named chairman of the local Rotary Club - I just want the flowers and then go back to searching for the latest Hollyoaks news.

Our quality journalism is now no longer the thing that attracts the eyeballs to the advertising.

So as news companies move from 'news' to 'service', how long will it be before someone at the top of the tree (more often than not someone who isn't a journalist) asks themselves, just why do we go to the expense of having journalists?

... just a thought.