Business Class Newspapers.
Oliver Reichenstein of Information Architects postulates that providing a better user experience could be the key to making money from news online. Hey, maybe it is. I won’t argue that it isn’t at least worthy a try. Lots of things are worth a try. An elegant experience with fewer and less obtrusive ads might also work.
What I do know, is that the laws of supply and demand are immutable. If the demand is high enough for your product, you can’t help but make money. That’s easy to say but hard to understand. Demand could be sky-high for something that looks a whole lot like your product which might lead you to conclude demand is high for your product. Take news, for example. Demand is high for news. Is demand high for your version of the news? Probably not unless you have a unique perspective or exclusive information. In economics, products similar enough to be indistinguishable in the eyes of the customer are referred to as substitute goods.
The scarcity newspapers previously enjoyed that led directly to their profitability has been long since explained in terms anyone can understand. While merely producing and distributing content no longer has much value in a digital, Internet-enabled world, other properties like immediacy, personalization, and authenticity either still have value or now have value they could never previously have had. If that sounds familiar, it should. Kevin Kelly outlined this over three years ago.
The free market makes no promises that the pie will remain forever the same size nor that the slices will be always of the same proportion. Winners under the old rules are often trampled by those taking advantage of the new. Charging for access to an abundant resource (more economics!) is a foolish and unsustainable strategy. So go ahead, try providing tiers of experience as a differentiator. It can’t hurt to try.1
- Here’s another free tip that could potentially ruin your entire business (not that it isn’t already a sinking ship), how about separating the organization into two teams? Team Curate provides narrow, focused experiences on any vertical you can own, examples are local live music, local politics, local food buzz — it’s up to you. The important thing is that the content isn’t limited by what the staff can produce internally. Charge for these experiences or show ads. Your choice. Team Create writes whatever you do best. That means not national news and not “opinion” about national news. Hard news, maybe even investigative reporting. This content gets syndicated (sold to third-parties) and / or packaged into one of the curated experiences from the other team. The once monolithic newspaper has now been broken into discrete units that can be scaled and supplemented in response to profitability. No more redundancy. The 19th-century newspaper structure has been retired as the relic it is, replaced by a lean, mean, Internet-native machine. (Oh, and if you want to, go ahead and print those components if you can do it for the right price.) [↩]