Saving Newspapers, Part MMIX: Collude and Conspire

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43 Responses to “Saving Newspapers, Part MMIX: Collude and Conspire”

  1. rbar says:

    The itunes model might not be the best fit for news. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems many would rather be entertained than informed.

    Ads are the way to go, especially if they are relevant to the content.

  2. Inkstain says:

    The iTunes model has two problems:

    1) It’s the exception. Micropayment has never really worked on the web outside of that one sucess.

    2) iTunes isn’t creating the content. Advertising can support the overhead of sites that are counting on users to create content (YouTube), volunteers (most blogs) or content that was being generated for another source anyway (ESPN, CNN). It’s never really been able to support content creation itself.

  3. Inkstain says:

    The iTunes model has two problems:

    1) It’s the exception. Micropayment has never really worked on the web outside of that one sucess.

    2) iTunes isn’t creating the content. Advertising can support the overhead of sites that are counting on users to create content (YouTube), volunteers (most blogs) or content that was being generated for another source anyway (ESPN, CNN). It’s never really been able to support content creation itself.

  4. zuzu says:

    Freelancers have little to nothing of the job security, benefits, etc., that professional salaried workers have. Why do we need to strip these perks from professionals, again?

    1.) Job security is a sham; there’s no such thing, really. Salaried workers panic when they lose their job. Whereas those limber enough to change jobs often, or who have alternative incomes, don’t have to worry as much. This makes companies bid and compete for you.

    2.) Benefits can be compensated by just being paid more and making your own judgment calls about what you spend your money on — eliminating the principal-agent problem.

    If we could also eliminate the dominant role of health insurance and reintroduce health consumerism — returning insurance to its proper role of catastrophes — then medical product and service prices would plummet and become affordable at cash value again.

    People already invest in their own retirement; it’s called an IRA or 401k. There’s no need for corrupt pension funds; they just get raided by the board of directors anyway, leaving you high and dry.

    Telecommunications has made much of what traditional firms do obsolete.
    c.f. Peter Drucker, Ronald Coase’s Nature of the Firm, Just-in-time (JIT), organizational theory

  5. zuzu says:

    There is a class of goods and services, whose existence is generally beneficial to the public, but which are difficult for any single actor to monetize, and therefore are very difficult for the private sector to provide in sufficient quantities. They are called ‘public goods.’

    Or create a dominant assurance contract to privately fund public goods.

    Alternately, we could just switch over to a whuffie-based economy. It would solve so many problems.

    Just as soon as we overcome that pesky real-life scarcity problem. Let me know when the first matter compiler is working.

    The iTunes model has two problems: 1) It’s the exception. Micropayment has never really worked on the web outside of that one sucess.

    What about the Amazon Kindle?

    I think that device is disastrously marketed as a book reader that happens to support periodicals, rather than a periodical delivery system (i.e. for newspapers and magazines) that happens to support books too.

  6. Inkstain says:

    “What about the Amazon Kindle?”

    Same problems have to be overcome: Do you convince advertisers to pay old pricing levels for ads? They won’t. Do you expect readers to foot the increased bill via subscription services? They might, but I doubt it.

    Content creation is *expensive*. Full-time paid reporters, photographers and editors add up fast.

  7. wolfiesma says:

    Zuzu, I have a Kindle and the supporting documentation heavily emphasizes the periodical angle. The introductory text mentions blogs and newspapers about 50 times. (BTW, Boingboing will run you $1.99 a month.) I’ve been tearing through some new releases that seem like such a bargain at 10 bucks a pop. Doubtful I will sign up for any newspapers or blogs, though, because I already get those delivered, paper and online.

  8. Phikus says:

    Zuzu: I love it when we can combine our powers for good. ;D

    Btw, I will be off the hook starting in about 30 mins from now when I get off work, as it is my birthday. =D

  9. aj says:

    Thank you.

    “Newspapers” are dead. News gathering is not. The smart news organizations know this (e.g. The Washington Post which I read daily from across the country). The others are getting shaken out and will continue to be shaken out.

  10. Shrdlu says:

    I the NYT should do as Rupert Murdock’s Sun and add a Page 3 girl. That would most certainly increase circulation.

    If you don’t know what Page 3 is, see:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/

  11. HeruRaHa says:

    I’m in total agreement with AJ… the smart papers have been moving online for years now, and plenty of online-only news outlets have popped up… anyone trying to figure out how to sell more newspapers is totally lost…

    I heard someone recently comment that newspapers would thrive in our times, had they only just now been invented — “this thing is amazing! I don’t have to plug it in, I can take it with me into the bathroom, and when I’m done with it I can just throw it out!”

  12. zuzu says:

    Sure there is, it’s called a union. You know, the people that ended child labor, reduced your workday from 16 hrs to 8 and your workdays to 5.

    That, or continual improvements in technology driving increased productivity of human labor; definitely one of those two. (c.f. environmental Kuznets curve)

    Besides, I don’t want to be tied to one company for more than a few years. Preferably, I come and go to develop for particular projects; not to sit idle as part of some wasteful “jobs bank” extortion. Syd Mead has a solid perspective on doing creative work in industry, if you watch his Visual Futurist documentary.

    Who wants to be a salaryman, anyway? (Besides Tdawwg, I guess?)

    I have a Kindle and the supporting documentation heavily emphasizes the periodical angle.

    After you’ve already bought it, unfortunately. The documentation / technical people need to set the public marketing people straight, it seems.

    I’ve been tearing through some new releases that seem like such a bargain at 10 bucks a pop. Doubtful I will sign up for any newspapers or blogs, though, because I already get those delivered, paper and online.

    It’d totally prefer to get The Economist, Financial Times, and Nature on a Kindle rather than print, as long as I still get the regular web access included too.

  13. darth_schmoo says:

    @zuzu

    I’m not understanding how a “dominant assurance contract” would work in general, much less in this specific instance. How would you use this mechanism to create a viable professional news organization?

  14. Phikus says:

    News is not obsolete, just paper. Think of how much money they will save when they stop printing and distributing and simply do what they do best, which is report the news. Collusion in the hands of the few Rupert Murdochs is what has brought media outlets to their knees, because they have created the need for alternative sources of journalism by becoming the Ministry of Information. Real investigating / hard hitting journalism will always create readership, in whatever media.

  15. wolfiesma says:

    Happy Birthday Phi! Where’s the party at? ;)

    I love Tom Tomorrow’s take on citizen journalism. It’s a little mean, but very funny (and true.)
    http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2009/03/03/tomo/index.html

  16. noen says:

    “Newspapers” are dead. News gathering is not.

    Ok…. how do you propose that news gathering will continue without anyone getting paid to do it? What would the model be? At some point someone has to go out and collect the news. That person needs to eat. How are they going to do that without some kind of pay structure?

    AP wants to charge people for their news. So far that hasn’t worked because people can get it elsewhere. What happens when you can’t get it from someone else (or they also charge)? You’ll pay for it alright.

  17. Jonathan says:

    Chomsky uses the NYTimes to demonstrate that newspapers are selling a product (audiences) to a market (advertisers): What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream. Also, see Propaganda model.

    I’m a Coloradan, so I watched with interest as the Rocky Mountain News recently went defunct, an event that was portrayed as reducing Denver to a “one-newspaper town” (The Denver Post remained). Of course, it already was essentially a one-newspaper town, as both newspapers were owned by the same company, working under a joint operating agreement, via the Newspaper Protection Act of 1970.

    The Rocky Mountain News commemorated their demise with a soppy, pasty, unprecedentedly maudlin vid that will hopefully become remix fodder for the next incarnation of journalists: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/.

    Just as the web may render newspapers obsolete, it renders collusion obsolete. Newspapers think that they “are” journalism, when journalism is, in fact, much greater than them.

    It reminds me of how the recording industry seems to think that it’s the “music” industry.

  18. Tdawwg says:

    Wow, “those limber enough.” Herbert Spenser is laughing somewhere….

  19. Phikus says:

    Noen: More money is now spent on internet advertising than any other format. People here at BB manage to get paid for what they do, and w/o subscription charges. Why shouldn’t news outlets be able to adapt in a way that still provides free content?

    So I guess I am saying I agree with “b) stop letting Google and other aggregators link to their work without some kind of financial arrangement in place.” When Google is making money by presenting their content, why shouldn’t the media outlet get their cut?

  20. jccalhoun says:

    Newspapers need to stop being full of information that is irrelevant for me to buy them.

    Why is there coverage of sports? Why does any paper have a sports section any more? Isn’t the half dozen sports channels on my cable system enough? I can see local high school or college sports but not major league stuff. Or horoscopes, or Dear Abby, or comic strips whose creators died decades ago?

    Why does the national edition of the NY Times include the sections specific to people living in and around New York like articles about weekending in Vermont or something. I’m in Indiana so I’m probably not going to weekend in Vermont. Or a cultural event that I’m not going to be able to see even if I wanted to.

    I know a lot of newspaper content is really just filler for the ads but it just seems like a waste of money, paper, and time to include these things in the paper.

  21. mdh says:

    I’m hoping that meeting takes place. I’ll even buy the cigars.

    I’m pretty sure meetings like these don’t take place on loading docks or wind-swept bus-shelters, so skip the cigars.

  22. Phikus says:

    Johnathan: Good points. In both the news and music industries, they need to stop whining and adopt the new paradigm that will allow them to survive, cause the genie is not going back into the bottle. It’s really not that hard of a jump to make. It just means less of the bloated pie for them. Sooner or later, they will have to eat whatever piece of the pie they can to survive, even if it may be humble.

  23. zuzu says:

    Ok…. how do you propose that news gathering will continue without anyone getting paid to do it? What would the model be? At some point someone has to go out and collect the news. That person needs to eat. How are they going to do that without some kind of pay structure?

    Hey, just curious, since you seem to be an expert on the subject of the changing media world, can you explain the markets that will let us move from ‘journalist-for-pay’ to ‘journalist-for-not-pay’? Feel free to substitute ‘content creator’ or ‘scientist’ or any other writer type work description with ‘journalist’.

    What’s all this about not being paid for journalism?

    Do you really believe that newspapers are the only business model possible to pay journalists?

    Like authoring software, some people will do it for free and earn their money in other ways. Others will devise alternative and competitive business plans to fund their journalism to keep it economically sustainable for them — just like every viable enterprise does.

    “How will I make money doing what I do?” (i.e. a business model) is part of doing whatever it is that you do. It’s part of life. I’m amazed anyone who isn’t on welfare or provided for by a trust fund even has to ask this kind of question.

    Dan totally hit the nail on the head, with these two particular points:

    “Create scarcity?” Spoken like a CEO, who’s really talking, just like Carr, about collusion.

    c.f. rent-seeking, Assuring Scarcity by Bob Frankston

    The issue is not saving newspapers. The issue is, among other things, seeing that good journalism survives. It’s also about making sure that people who “consume” media demand better than they’ve been getting, by persuading them to become activists in the way they consume. I’ll be talking more about all of this in upcoming posts.

    c.f. Death on Your Doorstep by Chet Hardin

  24. zuzu says:

    I’m pretty sure meetings like these don’t take place on loading docks or wind-swept bus-shelters, so skip the cigars.

    Pfft… business magnates already have a cure for lung cancer. (Hint: it’s the cigars!)

  25. aj says:

    Google and the New York Times won’t be publishing the local obits or high school sports scores.

    Why not? If people read them, they’ll publish them. Maybe not the Times, but some national organization.

    Or someone local will with a much lower overhead than the dead tree distributors who have to pay union pressmen and deploy a fleet of trucks every day to do what the interwebs do just as well for much less.

  26. rabinowitz says:

    I’m not going to provide a Wikipedia link for every word I use, but I do want to inject this thread with some hard facts of the current media landscape.

    According to top Washington Post editor Robert McCartney, the Internet is fantastic for newspaper readership. Today, more people read the Post than ever before. But the Post is still losing money. How? Because people choose to read the paper online. And who’s to blame them? Why wouldn’t you choose the free edition when both paper and electronic offer the same news? For professionals like Robert McCartney, that’s the problem.

    Advertising may appear to be the engine of the Internet, but it’s not quite that simple. For instance, advertisers aren’t willing to pay the same amount for Internet ads as they are for print ads. Furthermore, don’t forget that plenty of Internet users (especially elite users like my peers in this thread) hate ads enough to block them. You are the market, my friends. It’s hard to make a good claim for advertising supporting journalism when you’re blocking the ads.

    McCartney said that the Post’s office in Baghdad costs about $1 million per year to run. Professional journalism isn’t the result of motivated, organized amateurs. That’s what successful blogging is. And while Cory Doctorow might be able to make a living on the Internet today, BoingBoing would be hard pressed to support offices in Tokyo, London, and Italy from online ads alone.

    It’s not an easy pill for the DIY crowd to swallow, but citizen journalism cannot effectively take the place of professional news. While the professional news business model is suffering today, there’s not a shade of doubt in my mind that everyone in this thread values them and depends on them more than they’d care to admit.

  27. xhansel says:

    “b) stop letting Google and other aggregators link to their work without some kind of financial arrangement in place”

    Yes, nothing increases traffic and profits like preventing people from finding you and linking to you. Brilliant.

  28. noen says:

    Zuzu
    “Job security is a sham; there’s no such thing, really.”

    Sure there is, it’s called a union. You know, the people that ended child labor, reduced your workday from 16 hrs to 8 and your workdays to 5. Without them you’d still be a slave.

    “Benefits can be compensated by just being paid more”

    More libertarian delusions of grandeur, and speaking of delusional thinking

    “People already invest in their own retirement; it’s called an IRA or 401k.”

    Oh yeah!!! You’ll always have your 401k!! Woohoooooo!!!!

    I’m writing a book. I think I’ll call it: “If you meet a Libertarian On the Road, Kill Him”.

  29. Takuan says:

    I’ve noticed a few people refer to BB as the place they get their news. If, in addition to BB, BB Gadgets and BB TV there were a specific BB News,how would that work? Can anyone make a predictive model of how that would work and succeed?

  30. Tdawwg says:

    Zuzu, better a salaryman than a tech-fetishizing libertarian Social Darwinist dressing up our collective economic marginalization as some kind of twenty-first-century “hybrid knowledge production,” or whatever crap link to Wikipedia you care to cite. Let me know when the Invisible Hand gets done crushing you…. Maybe some of my bourgeois liberal humanist social safety nets will still be in place and will catch what’s left of you.

    O yeah, still waiting for your repo-friend’s journalism…. Linky?

  31. Tdawwg says:

    Like authoring software, some people will do it for free and earn their money in other ways.

    Right, like those nice boys Woodward and Bernstein: because their high-profile journalism jobs didn’t pay that much, the good lads sold cookies and washed cars all during their years-long investigation into Nixon’s crimes. What pluck, what determination!

    Seriously, could you hint at what kind of economic model would allow for hardcore investigative journalism while holding down another job or jobs? We need more citizen journalists, true, but why this cheerleading for the impoversihment and outmoding of trained professionals? Will we really get better journalism thereby? I think this is stupidity.

  32. darth_schmoo says:

    The answer seems easy enough to me. There is a class of goods and services, whose existence is generally beneficial to the public, but which are difficult for any single actor to monetize, and therefore are very difficult for the private sector to provide in sufficient quantities. They are called ‘public goods.’

    The problem we have here is that commentary can be done by just about anybody. In fact, millions of people (myself included) do it as a hobby. Fact generation, on the other hand, is often a much more difficult process, requiring “investigative journalism.” So the big news operations who are actually fielding reporters, getting the interviews, investigating the stories, are at a competitive disadvantage to an outfit that primarily synthesizes and re-reports. After all, the fact generators can copyright stories, but not the facts contained therein.

    Usually, it is the government’s role to provide public goods. But there is a conflict of interest, because government and the press are better off as adversaries. A good system would require government to fund a professional press corps, but with almost no say in how the money was used. Reporters and editors would have to be accountable to somebody — perhaps some professional society, or to their peers, or some “independent” oversight board — but not to the government itself.

    Alternately, we could just switch over to a whuffie-based economy. It would solve so many problems.

  33. noen says:

    @ Phikus –
    “People here at BB manage to get paid for what they do, and w/o subscription charges”

    Yeah, I understand that so perhaps my question should been “Will that model actually work for news?” I wonder if it will. The obvious reason it may not is because this web page is not made out of paper.

    The Internet is not a passive medium like print or even TV. In order for the old business model to work in this environment you would have to change it in some significant way. DRM is an attempt to force digital media to imitate physical media. I can’t magically copy/paste physical CD’s – DVD’s – Newspapers – Magazines, and if I even try I go to jail. Not so on the Internet.

    @ Zuzu
    “Do you really believe that newspapers are the only business model possible to pay journalists?”

    Sometimes I ask questions in order to frame the issue in a way that interests me. I am aware that there are other models but what I don’t know is a) How will this affect the quality of information b) Will different models enable more or less state control of information? (I’ve no idea) c) Will different models fragment our culture even more?

    I don’t know the answers to all that and I think something of value is lost.

  34. mdh says:

    “Will that model actually work for news?” I wonder if it will. The obvious reason it may not is because this web page is not made out of paper.

    News is not made of paper either.

  35. zuzu says:

    I can recommend a whole book on it, actually:

    The Future of Work by Thomas W. Malone

    why this cheerleading for the impoversihment and outmoding of trained professionals?

    You’ve got it all backwards. Just because you’re working freelance instead of for some Big Company doesn’t outmode knowledge workers (i.e. “professionals”). It’s the firms employing them that have been outmoded.

    But customers still demand what knowledge workers can do; it’s just the middle-men who are being cut out and reorganized.

    Ever hear the one about how railroad companies were obsoleted by trucking because they thought they were in the railroad business, when really they were in the transportation business?

  36. Phikus says:

    Xhansel@12: You find those paid links when you do a google search, don’t you? What if they post the articles in Google News just as they do today, (not according to how much the advertiser pays or how long they’ve been a customer) but the news outlet gets paid by google’s advertisers for a % of the impressions on their page when people click to their article from there. Then outlets get paid according to how in-demand their content may be, inspiring quality. (Yes, though there will still be crowd pleasing journalism as well as hard hitting, but every niche can find its audience if they expand their topics.)

    I know there are still a lot of things to be ironed out with this rough sketch of a new model, but it is a good jumping off point to re-defining a new winning paradigm. Just declaring print media is dead and whining about people not buying their obsolete tree-killing product is doing nothing for them.

  37. zuzu says:

    News is not made of paper either.

    Wiki is not paper.

  38. Inkstain says:

    I’m not going to get into a debate over whether the internet news model is better than the newspaper model, because it’s irrelevant, the newspaper model is dead.

    That said, nobody who understands how news organizations are funded thinks that online advertising can support even a fraction of the newsgathering industry that the U.S. currently enjoys. And less newsgathering is always bad for democracy.

  39. zuzu says:

    Right, like those nice boys Woodward and Bernstein: because their high-profile journalism jobs didn’t pay that much, the good lads sold cookies and washed cars all during their years-long investigation into Nixon’s crimes. What pluck, what determination!

    Here’s a concrete example. I knew someone who worked three overlapping jobs at once: Journalist, private detective, and repo man.

    (Multiple streams of income FTW.)

    All three jobs basically involved sitting in a truck with GPS navigation, a police scanner, and a digital camera with telephoto lens.

  40. Tdawwg says:

    @16, O please, that’s quite ridiculous. Freelancers have little to nothing of the job security, benefits, etc., that professional salaried workers have. Why do we need to strip these perks from professionals, again? How does this make news better? How does lessening job security and wages make for better workers? Are they supposed to get some kind of intangible benefit or added zeal from their second and third jobs? This is idiocy.

    Railroads’ obsolescence seems itself to be obsolete: the infrastructure still exists, and will be essential in dealing with the US’ energy problems. So bully for eighteen-wheelers’ century of cheap-carbon-fuels dominance, which has now ended.

    “Knowledge workers” is often corporatespeak for the freelancers you seem to want everyone to become, BTW: undertrained, overworked, and barely compensated, but O what a lovely euphemism! Professionals will stand, thanks.

  41. Inkstain says:

    And while the internet did kill off newspapers and traditional media, it didn’t do it in the way most people think.

    It wasn’t readers migrating to the web. That hurt, but it wasn’t half the blow that advertisers migrating was.

    The internet killed local media’s monopoly on advertising and made it incredibly, incredibly cheap. Classifieds and car ads moving to the web killed newspapers.

  42. dmiddlecamp says:

    A couple of observations from a guy who’s paycheck has come from newspapers for the last 20 years.
    iTunes proved people are willing to pay a nominal fee for quality online content that is well organized.
    Most newspaper organizations have been unwilling to loosen standards [allow porn listings, scam ads] to compete with places like Craig’s List. They also have been unwilling to hire teams of web experts to design ad browsing as easy as Craig’s List, Google and eBay.
    The big national papers will survive, they can draw national advertising, the regional and small local papers have a path that is not as clear.
    Do you care if your local highways are safe, if your schools are laying off teachers or the city council is sending your tax money to cronies?
    Google and the New York Times won’t be publishing the local obits or high school sports scores.

  43. Tdawwg says:

    Care to link to his/her journalism? Would you say it’s of the Woodward-Bernstein caliber? Why or why not? And kindly explain how journalism can be limited to sitting on one’s ass and not interviewing folks, working a beat, making connections, synthesizing stories O WAIT YOU CAN’T. This is sheer insanity.

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