This is the fourth post in a short series I’m pretty much done with about the business model for online news before I go back to my usual routine of pointing out the obvious to people wearing dark glasses. The starting point, the givens in the equation, are listed here. Suggest which windmill I should tilt at next using the Skribit widget in the sidebar of my blog while it’s still there.
“elephant” by droolcup on Flickr
There’s something funny about software for publishing online news.
Newspapers don’t develop it.
There’s an exception or two to that rule of course, but I hope I’ve force-fed you enough fine LJWorld.com products at this point to hammer that exception home. (I almost wish they had an affiliate program.)
But usually, instead of spending money to hire developers to build software to match the specifications of their own needs, newspapers and the companies that own them reach out the third-party vendors on a daily basis in order to provide basic functionality to online readers, consumers, and advertisers.
Follow along with me for a moment, substituting your own organization for the Royal We, in the parlance of our times:
- Classifieds? Let someone else build it, sell it, and profit from it. We won’t have much input into what they build for us, but we won’t need to worry about the servers or credit card processing.
- Databases? If we know what to do with them, we certainly haven’t hired anyone who can build them with journalistic intent. We outsource them, or we trust the one developer in the newsroom who knows what they’re doing to build a framework we can use more than once, or that we can use when they move on.
- Calendars, content management systems, even project management tools? We seem to have been out sick from school on the day “vertical integration” was covered in AP Economics.
No, I wouldn’t recommend you drop everything you’re doing so you can re-invent the wheel, especially when some of those wheels are pretty darn good at filling your needs for a relatively small short-term price.
But yes, I heartily recommend you build an extensible Web application for the next unserved need in your organization. Just pick any one of those that pops up in the next month or so, and go at it.
After you’ve launched it and earned the praise of your peers, slap a price tag on a license and get to work marketing it.
You’ve made a long-term investment by hiring developers. The capital is coming back in the form of the application that’s useful to your organization; think of the license fees for the software as interest income. You’ll be supporting the software for your own papers, anyway; might as well serve a few other organizations at the same time, for a price.
So ask yourself which software needs are going unmet in your own organization. If you can’t find the right tool for the job, chances are, no one else can either.
A caveat: I’ve given out a lot of advice (some of it unsolicited) to newsrooms about using free, Web-based tools for online news production. I still think that’s the right approach for many news-related purposes, but as soon as you find yourself paying for a mediocre service that’s part of your core business routine, it’s time to build something better.