Content asteroid belts

Cameron Koczon on how publishers and readers manage satellites like Instapaper, Readability, and other unbundled flying objects: A List Apart: Orbital Content.

“Many publishers will ask—and it is a fair and familiar question—why should users have the right to carbon copy my content and share it in other contexts? It is a question that belies a concern about something slightly different: compensation. If publishers were compensated $10 every time content was shared and $1 every time it was read on their site, they would do everything in their power to get their content shared. Copying is not the problem—compensation is. Today’s web environment makes it nothing less than a struggle to support content creators. We have unlimited tools for sharing and virtually none for payment.”

It seems safe to add News.Me, Summify, and Trove to the list of satellites — or rather, to the list of, say, content asteroid belts that circle readers and publishers.

Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good

Full audio and transcript of a recent Clay Shirky talk that includes this note on the unbundling of media: “So, in the language of my tribe, the aggregation of news sources has gone from being a server-side to a client-side operation — which is to say, the decision about what to bring together into a bundle is made by the consumer and not at the level — and not by the producer.”

Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good

Repackaging the unbundled

Scott Karp (yes, he’s my boss over at the office) is more fascinated than I am about Google’s new FastFlip, but he’s wisely focusing on the fact that it’s an experiment with a new user experience for online news, and not implying that it’s something poised to Save Journalism.

Scott’s latest post on the topic argues that “content doesn’t matter without the package.”

“Newspapers’ inability to generate the same revenue online as in print has nothing to do with content. It’s because on the web they are no longer in the business of packaging content, and that’s what the newspaper business, like every other media business, has always been about. Instead, media companies put their content on the web and let search and other aggregators package it.”

It’s that last part that’s most interesting. I mean, it’s no surprise that the news business in the age of the Web now operates in a world of unbundled media, where the mp3 is currency, and the album is an outdated package. The individual news story, blog post, or tweet is not something we’re willing to pay for as consumers, even though we might occasionally still drop a few quarters in a box for a Sunday New York Times print edition — a packaged product that includes a bunch of individual items and products that we’re interested in. (For me, it’s just about the crossword, and it’s been multiple years since I last purchased said paper for said purpose.)

But.  How do we consume all those broken up pieces of content, news, information, and commentary online?

Maybe we use Google Reader. (A package of RSS feeds we’ve selected.)

Or Twitter. (A package of microblogging feeds we’ve selected.)

Once upon a time, people paid for software like RSS readers. (NetNewsWire in its heyday.)

Today, some people pay for Twitter clients like Tweetie, and many, many more pay for iPhone apps that package individual bits and streams of information into a pleasant interface that minimizes both button-pushing and waiting, two things of limited desirability when a human being is mobile.

The iPhone app package is so useful and valuable to us as consumers, that we’re even willing to pay for niche content like a Miami Dolphins app from a news organization.


  • What other repackaged interfaces for unbundled media will consumers be willing to pay for?
  • How do you consume news and information? Do you navigate from site to site, or do you operate a packaged interface?
  • Which companies, organizations, and individuals are winning at repackaging unbundled media?

Carnival of Journalism: Are we asking the right questions about online revenue models?

As is my habit, I’m running behind on my Carnival of Journalism post this month, set to the timely and tuneful whistles and bangs of talk about whether a newspaper’s online revenue could support the newsroom, how long the newspaper of record will keep the press running, and what a major metro in a failed JOA can do to survive online.

So, the question, posed by Paul Bradshaw (and be sure to check out the Seesmic thread as well) is as follows:

“How do you financially support journalism online?”

Of course, as is my habit, I’m going to have to sharpen that question up a bit, lest I fall prey to the temptation to speculate wildly about the future of major metro newspapers and their finances, as I’m sure I’ve done in the past.

So let’s get specific.

Here’s what I’m not interested in talking about:

Whether the current online revenue of a giant newspaper could support its newsroom staff.  I think that’s an apples/oranges problem.  Shutting down the press is not a hydraulic maneuver — it does not occur in a vacuum — it affects brand and upsell revenue and staffing and all sorts of parts move and grind against each other when you flip that switch on a large scale.  So, looking at two columns in a spreadsheet and saying “oh, they match” is a bit simplistic for my taste.

Great, so, moving on.

Well, wait, not yet.  One more thing to get out of the way:

I’m not (that) interested (today) in trying to figure out what revenue, then, will support major metro newspapers online.  When a major city loses its last print edition, it will be because it has already been replaced, in terms of reporting, advertising, commentary, and yes, journalism, by (mostly) smaller organizations.

And by definition, I expect a in a no-print city to look and feel infinitely different than it does now, to be a distributed news service, the sum of dozens of tiny parts, a portal to a wide variety of platforms where bits of news pushed out and pulled in.

(Right, so again, these are all the things I’m not going to talk about today. Right. Sure.)

My question, then, is how to support a small, agile, online-only news organization.

And that’s a much easier question to answer, isn’t it?

Let’s start with three obvious ways:

  1. Local Advertising. What?  You thought online advertising couldn’t support online journalism?  Well, it all depends on scale.  If you’re building a community news site for a 10-square-mile area, you’re likely to find a set of local businesses that have never had an advertisement online before, and certainly not running on a news source that exclusively covers the area in which their most likely customers live.  A combination of banner ads sold at reasonable rates, business listings, and sponsorships should bring in a portion of your revenue.
  2. Freemium Classifieds. What?  You thought craigslist killed every possible opportunity for local classified ad sales?  No.  Not in hundreds (thousands?) of markets in between major cities, and maybe not at the neighborhood-level.  Either way, you’re going to make money off classifieds without turning away one-time customers who aren’t interesting in paying to sell that old tricycle.  Here’s how:  Offer new customers five free ads.  After that, they pay.  Businesses always pay.  Real estate brokers and car dealerships pay a premium, especially to add video to their ads.  The key to this?  A simple self-service system.  Keep the interface basic and friendly, and tailor it to your community.
  3. Community-Funded Reporting. What? You’re worried that you won’t be able to pay for long-form investigative reporting on a small community site budget? The simple answer is that the community will pay for the stories that would otherwise be missed by a larger, slower, all-encompassing news organization with a broad coverage area. See the Spot.Us project for live examples of enterprise reporting that were funded, a few dollars at a time, by community members and other interested parties (like me) who don’t live in the area anymore, but still take an interest in local issues.

After that, there are less obvious ways to keep a small organization financially afloat, but they’ll vary based on your skills, staffing, and neighborhood.

Does that local business need a Web site to go with their banner ad?  I hear there are these new things called “blogs” that might be easy for them to maintain once you set them up with one, handling the hosting, domain management, and upgrades for a fee.

Other moving parts to keep an eye on:

  • Ethan Zuckerman asks if ad-support journalism is viable, using the example of a 25k print circulation newspaper as a point of reference for his thoughtful analysis of the logic behind CPM ad pricing online.
  • VentureBeat on changes at Federated Media, a display advertising network for technology blogs and news sites.  The changes seem to focus on getting away from straight-ahead banner advertising.
  • No News Is Bad News, a group in Seattle trying to figure out what to do next with the Post-Intelligencer, which is likely to fold as a print newspaper around 50 days from now after not finding a buyer.

Newspapers: Vanishing faster than you think

Philip Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper, in AJR:

“The town crier’s audience was limited to the number of people who could be assembled within the range of an unamplified human voice. Printing changed everything. It made the size of the audience theoretically limitless and, by the creation of multiple records, enabled more reliable preservation of knowledge.

The Internet wrecks the old newspaper business model in two ways. It moves information with zero variable cost, which means it has no barriers to growth, unlike a newspaper, which has to pay for paper, ink and transportation in direct proportion to the number of copies produced.

And the Internet’s entry costs are low. Anyone with a computer can become a publisher, as Matt Drudge demonstrated when he broke the Monica Lewinsky story in 1998 and countless bloggers have shown in the decade since. These cost advantages make it feasible to make a business out of highly specialized information, a trend that was under way well before the Internet.”

These are the basics, the givens, of the post-industrial knowledge economy:

  1. There is no mass audience.
  2. There is no barrier to publication.
  3. The cost of operating legacy organizations increases indefinitely as profit decreases indefinitely.
  4. There is nothing cyclical about this change.

Rinse, repeat, rethink.

10 blogs your newspaper needs to rip off

I’m making a short list of frequently updated news blogs published by mainstream news organizations that post breaking news and link out to other sources.

If you run a and you don’t have a blog like this to put together links and short updates, ask yourself why not.

These are all great examples of blogs that get news up in a timely way without a great deal of waiting around for a daily-print-cycle-based editorial process to wrap up.

  1. The Lede – New York Times – Notes on the news in the Times and all over the place. Links to blogs, other news sources, YouTube videos embedded on the page, etc. See also: City Room for the local NYC version.
  2. Blotter – ABC News – “Brian Ross and the Investigative Team” provide lots of detail on current news stories. Not much in the way of links, but there’s lots more here than you’d find on the nightly newscast.
  3. On Deadline – USA Today – Breaking news, including frequent updates on whatever’s breaking right now this minute, plus links to outside sources.
  4. The Trail – Washington Post – Campaign trail notes from WaPo staffers. Less links and more reporting, but short and sweet for the most part, far ahead of the print cycle.
  5. Wonkette – Gawker Media – Washington DC gossip + snark.
  6. Instapundit – Glenn Reynolds – A classic example of a political blog, but the links are the content here.
  7. Romenesko – Poynter – I’d guess this is the single most widely-read blog in U.S. newsrooms. All the news industry news you can shake a browser at, all links, all the time.
  8. Epicenter – Wired – Lots of technology business news here, often in the form of short posts with links to other news sources, blogs, and research.
  9. L.A. Now – L.A. Times – Daily links, photos, and bits of news.
  10. TechBlog – Houston Chronicle – OK, so this is more topical than timely, but Dwight Silverman is probably the most prolific individual newspaper blogger out there, with really frequent updates and lots of links, focusing on consumer technology, not venture capital news that no one outside of Silicon Valley cares much about.

Feel free to add more examples in the comments.

I’m looking for the best news linkblogs out there to use as examples of what a should be doing with an all-purpose breaking news blog or a topical linkblog.

See also: Scott Karp on “link journalism.” 

Alltop is Popurls for everything

Guy Kawasaki and his friends at Alltop have been building a series of cute little aggregators a la popurls that are full of headlines from a set of hand-picked blogs submitted by people who pay attention to Guy and friends in places like Twitter.

Myself included.

And so, you’ll find Invisible Inkling listed now at both and That second one makes heavy use of an OPML file I offered to Guy, so if it suddenly drives a lot of traffic your way, I think you owe me a beer. Guy can buy his own beer.

Next Newspaper

Funny thing about the newspaper business.

If you’re interested in innovation, you find yourself constantly trying to demonstrate the present to people with their feet (and desks, workflow, and hierarchy) planted firmly in the past.

And while The Future of Newspapers mostly gets ink for being bleak, the future of news does not blink, or miss a beat, or stop to have a meeting to decide what color the background of its new Web site will be.

The future of news is Qik and Twitter and Friendfeed and Google Reader and Seesmic and Yahoo Live and whatever launches tomorrow that lets the people in your community share information and produce content by pushing a big red record button.

The future of news looks more like Blade Runner than Minority Report. And I don’t mean the part where Deckard reads the print edition. I mean the crazy chaotic floating blimp advertising and the bits of information flowing around mobile screens in places like taxicabs and the exposed innards of machinery.

So stop waiting for The Future of Newspapers to arrive, wrapped in a plastic sleeve with a business model printed on the outside, slipped politely behind the screen door by the paperboy. He got laid off last week. You’re going to have to try something new if you want to survive.

What’s this new Twitter thing I keep hearing about?

It’s the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s in newsrooms all over the world, and apparently, everyone’s reading Romenesko, clicking through on the link to a post by Howard Owens (full disclosure, y’all: he’s my boss), and jamming on his link tagging me as a Twit-vangelist.

So, here are a few places to start if you want to know what Twitter is all about:

  1. Social media guy Dan York on “The 10 ways I learned to use Twitter in 2007” (found via Zac Echola’s delicious links)
  2. My own Twitter-related posts on this here blog you’re reading now.
  3. My own Delicious bookmarks related to Twitter.
  4. Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang’s “Some conversations have shifted to Twitter”
  5. Search Google Blogsearch for recent posts about Twitter. Today you’ll find a lot of talk about how news of the Bhutto assassination spread on Twitter yesterday. (Hint: Early adopters now check their Twitter streams in the morning before they check your news site.)

The most important thing you can do to learn about Twitter is to sign up now. Come on in and play, the water’s fine. I’ll be your first friend. Even better, sign up, then leave a comment here with a link to your profile. (