Making money from your newspaper’s archives

The Irish Examiner's photo archive
JFK on Cork's Patrick St - buy it now

The Chicago Reader, a free alternative weekly, has put online its archive of long-form film reviews. It’s the latest in a line of print publications (such as Vogue and The New York Times) trying to figure out a way to add to the value or extend the reach of older content they own and have already paid for. Adam Tinworth lists an interesting couple of additional uses of archival material on his blog (M&S lingerie anyone?).

I’ve harped on about this before, using the example of the Irish Examiner’s archive of great Cork photos (that’s JFK on Cork’s Patrick Street, above).

But seeing a paper publish an archive of its film reviews brings the issue into sharper focus for me. Because print publications have been aggregating and publishing their non-news archive material on paper for years. In film, the obvious example is the annual Time Out film guide. But the Daily Telegraph has printed volumes of its renowned obituaries, a compilation of Yorkshire Evening Post cryptic crosswords accompanied me around the world and The Economist even publishes its in-house style guide. In hardback.

Newspapers are experienced at wringing extra revenue from their non-news content. Some of them are transferring that experience to their online operations – Vogue’s online archive costs $1,575 a year.

But many more are sitting around wringing their hands because “newsgathering is expensive” and no one wants to pay for “journalism”. It’s far from an original statement but it cannot be repeated often enough – readers never paid for journalism. They paid for the bundle – the crossword, the weather, the stock pages, the fashion pages, event listings, movie reviews. And newsgathering has always been the most expensive part of generating that bundle.

Parts of it are worthless a month after the event. Thanks to the internet, parts of it are worthless after minutes. But some  parts are worth something a year, a decade or even a century later. Isn’t it time papers figured out which is which and started devoting more attention to bits that can provide either readers’ cash or readers’ eyeballs for years?

The guy who wrote The Dip says the guy who wrote The Tipping Point is wrong about the guy who wrote Free

What utter wank.

Chris Anderson persists in marketing a book, Free (£8.54 from whose relevance failed at about the same time as the international credit markets.

Among other things, Anderson is known for his book, The Long Tail, which at least has the virtue of being based on an observable mathematical phenomenon –  that the less popular a product was, the fewer people bought it and vice versa – ground-breaking stuff.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, a book devoted to how humans have an uncanny gift for quickly sniffing out bullshit, says here that Anderson’s argument is full of holes.

Seth Godin (I haven’t read any of his books – his post is unlikely to change that) and Anderson (in this uber-patronising smugfest) would be a lot easier to take seriously if they addressed some of the questions in Gladwell’s critique rather than giving us one more high school-pitched lesson in economics and marginal cost and an extrapolation as to how it applies to newspapers.

Such as – why YouTube, free darling of the Web 2.0 movement, and case study in Anderson’s book, has yet to make a red cent in profit. Why Amazon’s Kindle 30-70 profit-sharing/copyright deal with the Dallas Morning News is fucked – if the marginal cost of an extra copy is “close enough to nil as can be rounded down”, shouldn’t the deal be a bit more equitable? That the eerily reminiscent Lewis Strauss’s “too cheap to meter” claims failed to materialise and why.

Gladwell excuses Anderson as a “technological utopian” in his misunderstanding of the costs behind running any network. I think he is being too kind – at best Anderson is an after-dinner speaker and new media consultant for whom the book, Free, serves as a business card.

I think I will wait until, like any such advertisement, Anderson’s book reaches the price of its title before reading – it shouldn’t take too long.

And can somebody please call the cops or social services or whoever and free those poor guys trapped in Anderson’s basement cranking out GeekDad posts for Wired?