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How do you monetise archived newspaper stories? One of the more frequent arguments used against an “iTunes for news” approach to selling individual newspaper articles is that they do not have the shelf life of a song. You listen to songs many times – you bin a newspaper the next day.
Depressingly often, those most guilty of a “tomorrow’s fishwrap” mentality toward newspapers are those most involved with their creation. The focus, understandably, is on the value to be added to tomorrow’s edition and rarely on extracting any from work that has been done, paid for and archived.
That’s why I found this story about the New Yorker charging for collections of old articles cheering. They started with baseball pieces selected from 90 years of the periodical and moved on to golf and other subject areas. The collections were for the iPad, but they could just as easily be for any other tablet, an e-book reader or even printed for an old-fashioned dead tree edition.
This isn’t a new idea – on-demand printers, such as Amazon’s CreateSpace will print your book. Wikipedia will print books of any entries you choose. Newspaper Club will print you a one-off, small newsprint run from any files you send them. National newspapers regularly give away vouchers for print-your-own photo books.
The consumer side of this market is well stocked, but there are few newspapers or magazines chasing this stream of revenue.
The trouble is, a lot of the functions needed to put this together take place behind the scenes of a newspaper’s archive and the value only starts acruing from when you get organised. In other words, to be reaping the value from a properly organised, categorised database of its content NOW, a newspaper website would have had to start 10-15 years ago. Some did, but some still don’t tag content properly.
But better late than never – Google is digitising books that are out of print but still in copyright, with a view to selling them. The technology cannot be that different when digitising the more saleable elements of a newspaper’s cuttings archive. It means scanning a lot of yellowing paper, or more likely microfiche, but many newspapers have begun the process already. Optical character recognition (OCR) software is pretty reliable these days, and should a newspaper make a wiki of all their past information on a subject, crowdsourced corrections could conceivably make any scanning problems minimal.
If a newspaper’s database is sufficiently well organised, there are almost endless possibilities with this:
– Books of obituaries. These could be organised by job (politicians, World War II air aces, drummers) by nationality (50 famous Belgians), by home town, or by any combination. Set up a website, let readers build their own collections.
– Coffee table books of archive images – when I worked for the Irish Examiner, the picture processing team would scan old glass plate images into the digital during down time. The images included JFK’s visit to Cork city. People pay for reprints.
– Annuals – a year’s gardening columns, organised by season or month; a collection of travel columns organised by country.
– Sports – I have little interest, but there are those who would pay for a book of match reports and images of their local hurling or football club’s year.
There are also great sponsorship possibilities – Robinson’s pay for an e-book of Wimbledon greats, Odeon a collection of the year’s movie reviews, or PC World a pre-Christmas collection of tech reviews.
CJR’s Felix Salmon sums it up: “the small sponsored collections are for me the most exciting, from a business-model perspective. It’s hard to sell old content — but it’s much easier to repackage it and get a sponsor to pay you to do so.”
If you involve the reader in the creation and correction of these documents, you minimise the costs of production. If you use print-on demand, or e-books, you minimise production costs. If you organise your database properly, you minimise (but, thankfully, don’t eliminate) the need for editorial input.
As Salmon points out, “the more different models and revenue streams, the better”. Better yet if you’ve already borne most of the costs.
In the Sunday Independent, Declan Lynch trots out so many cliches about “the sick relationship between newspapers and the internet” it’s hard to believe he’s not making a cack-handed attempt at irony. And when I say trots, I do mean a narrow stream of squint-eyed shite.
For Declan, identifying the enemies takes no research and less thought – Google, “the great god”, the thief as decreed by Rupert Murdoch, and Wikipedia, that anonymous conglomerate of amateur research that is shamed by the quality of “the lowliest provincial paper”. Twitter? Why, without links to stories by paid-up, bona fide journalists, it would be “a bunch of people talking about what they had for breakfast”. And bloggers? Well, they are just “self-regarding bores without the writing talent or the commitment to the task that would get them a proper job in a newspaper”. Hooray, that’s surely internet bonehead bingo.
Let’s for a moment overlook Declan’s convenient exclusion of the BBC, RTE, CNN, Al-Jazeera, NPR and all the other broadcast news websites out there. Let’s just look at his notion of “quality” in the press.
Writes Declan, “the internet has shown the value of newspapers, with their culture of accuracy and accountability which has been formed over a period of centuries”. Culture of accuracy and accountability? Read an EU or Princess Diana headline in the Daily Express. Read a cancer headline in the Daily Mail. Accountable? Accurate?
Declan has fallen into that narrow view of a journalism Golden Age that lasted from Watergate to about 1990. It overlooks the biased penny press of the early 19th century, the yellow press of the late 1890s and the Sunday Sport.
And he has identified the problem. The newspaper industry “flagellates itself for failing to develop a ‘business model’ for the online age. But then there has never been a business model, and there will never be a business model, which is based on giving it away for free.” Apart from Metro, the Evening Standard, the Dublin People etc.
Declan has an “obvious thing” and a “pretty smart solution” to heal this combined sickness. Paywalls. Well so far, so original.
Still you have to hand it to Declan. For a guy who knows fuck-all about the internet, he’s a dab hand at trolling.
"It will take years, they say, before the gains show up in the economic statistics, just as it did for computers to prove they were engines of productivity."
Tom: It's a lovely day for a launch, here, live at Cape Canaveral, at
the lower end of the Florida Peninsula, and the purpose of
today's mission is truly, really electrifying.
Man 2: That's correct, Tom. The lion's share of this flight will be
devoted to the study of the effects of weightlessness on tiny
Tom: Unbelievable, and just imagine the logistics of weightlessness.
And of course, this could have literally millions of applications
here on Earth — everything from watchmaking to watch repair.
Homer: Boring. Tom: Now let's look at the crew a little.
Man 2: They're a colorful bunch. They've been dubbed "the Three
Musketeers". Heh heh heh —
Tom: And we laugh legitimately. There's a mathematician, a different kind of mathematician, and a statistician.
The Irish Daily Mail says it is putting on sales, but it’s web presence won’t win many readers. A parking ticket scam (from Liverpool), a story about the UK Ministry of Defence breaking up its Nimrod surveillance aircraft (from January 28) and a half-finished promotional “puff” for the Ashes 2010-2011.
I know Ireland beat you at cricket boys, but you may be overestimating the average Irishman’s desire to hear about the glorious thwack of leather on willow.
A strange confluence of links in my rss feeds today really annoyed me/spurred me to write.
I cannot fault the logic in Simon Waldman’s post:
“These days we can’t live without Google; but before it existed, I couldn’t even have articulated my need for it.”
It should scare everyone who is neither an inventor nor an entrepreneur — it surely scares the life out of me, because it seems like exactly where news online is headed. For an essentially subjective endeavour such as news gathering, I still feel that reporters, sub-editors and designers are a resourceful, inventive, practical lot. But from where I sit, we’ve got nothing to offer the pot — the changes in how we work and why those changes are being made are being dictated from outside.
What really caught me was this age-old observation about Kodak:
“We all know that the digital camera was invented in Kodak’s labs, but it threatened the formidable profitability of their three-legged model of chemicals, paper and film, and the innovation was never made a priority.”
When placed alongside this story about how Nokia had a touchscreen smartphone ready to go six years ago, but shelved it, it makes you feel far less sympathy for their current floundering.
“It was very early days, and no one really knew anything about the touch screen’s potential. And it was an expensive device to produce, so there was more risk involved for Nokia. So management did the usual. They killed it.” – Ari Hakkarainen
Disruption can be good, is often necessary to sweep away outmoded production methods and can give an industry the means to transform and survive. But how often are managements killing things they aren’t prepared to take a risk on? Worse still, how often do managers buy into a load of guff that sounds disruptive and transformative because it’s on the right bandwagon rather than because they actually understand the change and how it applies to their business? And how often are newsrooms even aware that any of this has taken place?
I would submit that “The art-director will run the newsroom of the future!” is in the guff category. The exclamation point is theirs, and should speak volumes. What utter bilge, peddled by people with more interest in how the container appears than in its contents. Again and again, news executives are bypassing the talent in their newsrooms looking for disruption and the iPad-led gold and glory they assume (and new media conferences and consultants promise) will follow.
Perhaps a more concrete example can be found in Juan Antonio Giner’s Innovation in Newspapers blog. It has been essential reading for me for quite a few years now, but as I have pointed out before, concerns itself less and less with newspapers as time goes by. That really is a shame – this post should illustrate to fans how far it has sunk.
It is one thing to pronounce daily on good and bad newspaper design and journalism but to put forward this “concept phone” as a possible solution is seeing the news consultant merry-go-round finally begin to eat itself.
The solution!! Hallelujah!!! — too bad it’s five to 10 years away, by which time every problem we imagine it will solve will either have ceased to be or will have been cracked more cheaply and simply by somebody else. Why not just suggest an “app” that prints money? It’s about as credible and is designed to appeal to exactly the same instincts.
Which brings us back to the true disruptors – the guys who will make a mint turning news on its head at low cost, using technology and scale, and without the burdens of legacy news production such as people, pensions and presses.
Simon Waldman cites the following:
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jerry Yang and David Filo, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar, Reed Hastings, Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), Andrew Black and Edward Wray (Betfair), Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster, Natalie Massenet (Net-a-porter),Tony Hsieh (Zappos.com), Evan Williams and Mark Pincus.
You’ll be familiar with most of the names. I dare say none of them has ever phoned a fire station at 1am, doorstepped a company director or tickled an intro with seconds to go before deadline. But until the operatives of every journalistic enterprise of every size come up with something better, the future of the industry is in the hands of the entrepreneurs and not those more concerned with its nuts and bolts.
Now I am all for telling stories visually, but occasionally you have to say stick with the text. The graphic on Friday morning’s Irish Times added nothing that couldn’t have been achieved with a single-column graph. It also looks as if it has been through the committee mangle.
While it is great that the Times has a pop at occasionally telling a finance story using graphics, it would be nice if they tried it in a braver fashion. They’ve got the people who can do it – why not let them off the leash?
Let’s face it, the numbers, though large, are easy to grasp. If you cannot make the graphic work, why not just run a simple bar chart to break up the copy and let Martyn Turner tell the story?
And for the love of God, lose the beige background. You’ve had full colour for a decade – it’s time to start using it.
A lot of people are posting on the Wapping paywalls. This is my completely subjective selection:
The Drum has rounded up a few reactions from creative/advertising/PR types and the gist is a mix of time-will-tells and jury-still-outs. One interesting point was that the design of the site made it difficult to navigate on the iPad, which is odd given the resources the Times is devoting to the Apple device.
George Brock, professor and head of journalism at City University London, tells the Independent, reasonably enough, that it’s too early to tell whether the Wapping “experiment” will succeed.
John Naughton, in the Observer, also takes up the “experiment” line, saying “Rupert Murdoch may be richer or poorer as a result, but we will all be much the wiser.” My guess is Mr Murdoch will be poorer and the prevailing wisdom – absolute paywalls don’t work for general news content – will be confirmed.
Steve Outing at least lays his cards on the table, saying Rupert Murdoch’s move is uber-dumb. He makes a point of how “hard” the paywalls actually are – no Google indexing and no deep links. He suggests the Guardian’s all-open, all the time strategy is better suited to the web.
On the courageously pro-paywall side is this two-week-old piece from Prospect magazine, “Murdoch is right”. It asks “If we value good journalism, why don’t we pay for it online?” It doesn’t answer the question even remotely, but it’s worth a read and, ironically enough, it’s in the “free” section of their freemium-model website.
I’ve now heard two sources inside the Times, one direct, one relayed, that holding five per cent of their pre-paywall audience would be considered a success by Mr Murdoch and his expanding crew. As I’ve already posted, the sums just don’t add up on that for me.
Adrian Weckler, a tech reporter with the Sunday Business Post in Dublin, reported on twitter that he was offered a year’s subscription for £50, less than half the touted £2-a-week rate. He also pointed out that the subscription email referred to “joining 100,000 other subscribers”. But how many of those will remain beyond the £1 for 30 days trial period?
Poynter compares the Timeses’ approach to paywalls with the metered model the FT is using and the New York Times is planning. Again, to anyone who missed it, these semi-open paywalls are the better choice because they still allow discovery by Google, they allow deep linking from bloggers, tweets and Facebook updates and thereby maintain the exposure and currency of the Timeses’ expensive columnists and commentators. The “freemium” model also allows wide advertising of different price points at which consumers can enter – starting with the best one, free. The Times seems to ignore a fairly basic point of marketing.
My two cents is that the plan doesn’t seem coherent – the timing of the changes is unclear, the pricing is unclear and the underlying strategy for growing a web presence and associated revenues is non-existent. As I’ve mentioned before, I would have liked to see what the Times could have done in the open with the level of resources and attention it has thrown at a doomed paywall.
Finally, those papers and online news providers wishing to stay open but still looking to cut costs and needless levels of middle management procurement and implementation bureaucracy would do worse than look at the Ben Franklin project. Belated Happy Independence Day, Americans!