The business model is still the elephant model in the room, as Ryan Sholin writes.
All the new media in the world won’t save the media, if they can’t figure out how to make money off of it. Will advertising be enough? At the very least there’s a deep chasm to cross, according to some analysis Mark Potts did.
And so since social networks and Web 2.0 companies can serve up page views far cheaper than media companies, it’s time to look at some alternate business models.
- Merchandising CNN already does it. Web comics do it. Randall Munroe writer of xkcd and his roommate make a living purely off of merchandising, according to his New York Times profile. xkcd attracts a huge audience but runs no advertising. So sell some t-shirts and sweatshirts with a masthead or a logo on it. Or with headlines. Or let people custom order t-shirts with photos from the paper on it. Or framed copies of stories about them or that they were quoted in. Okay, lots of papers do sell photos, but they're mostly impossible to find unless you're specifically looking for them so most readers never find it. There should at least be a link by every photo that runs. The Harvard Crimson does this.
- Consulting Among journalists' skills is the ability to ferret out and synthesize a lot of information and then package it succinctly. Hey, that sounds like exactly the skills needed for a corporate report or to do background research on a new business proposal. Beyond that, they are supposed to be experts in the fields they cover. So let companies or individuals hire journalists as consultants to provide advice or do research for an hourly rate. a HIGH hourly rate.
- Briefings Similar to number two, journalists are supposed to be good at presenting a lot of information in an easy to digest format. How then, did they give up the ENTIRE market analysis field. GigaOm is getting into it with a briefing on cloud computing priced at $250 a copy. So is paidContent.org with reports on Social Media and Online Gaming in China for $399. Look at MarketResearch.com. They have reports (information) on a huge range of topics that people are buying at prices from several hundred dollars, to several thousand! Think about all the extra information that's routinely gathered in the course of reporting a big story. While it's cut to make the final piece easier to read for a mass audience, there's also an audience that will pay for a much more in depth look. Every local newspaper should have a "How to open a retail franchise in X" with information on the retail climate, traffic patterns and other local knowledge. There should be an "Area private schools: where to send your kid". And more. Compile that information, make it easy to digest, and sell it. But of course, if you're going to charge it better be damn good.
- Sell Timeliness For some people timeliness of information is absolutely crucial. Think professional investors, politicians, corporate executives. So set up a system to let them see any news that is being broken first. Even just a few hours. Let's say some news organization got a scoop that Steve Jobs' cancer is returning. That information would be priceless to someone investing in Apple stock. Or if a strike is brewing at XYZ company, or congressman is taking bribes. There are all sorts of information where getting it even a tiny margin sooner than others is invaluable. Or just to brag to friends. Of course, this only works if the newspaper is regularly breaking news.
- Deeper sponsorships There are certain kinds of stories that happen regularly. Crime statistics. Holiday shopping numbers. Weather. So sell advertising tied into it. "This crime report brought to you by Mace" "This consumer spending report brought to you by Target".
- Get serious about local communities Don't just sponsor events, organize them. Conferences for local businesses. Food tastings from local restaurants. Reading in the park with local authors. Meet local sports stars. Reunion concert for musical acts that got their start locally. Movie screenings. Class action lawsuits. Debates and townhall meetings. Then sell sponsorships and tickets. GigaOm is a great example of this again. They sponsor three conferences in the area they cover to which tickets are quite expensive. But they are good, well produced events that not only generate a ton of buzz for them, but serve an important function in the community. The Wall Street Journal is getting into it too with their All Things D conference.
- Get serious about your online community Look at how Ars Technica does it. They have an amazing online community that has thrived for years and produced millions of posts. The participants on their forums discuss every topic, related to their articles and not. They have classifieds, technical talk, sex, all sorts of random things. People consider the Ars forums their HOME on the internet. That's because it's community moderated and idiots get thrown out. Those interested in building online communities would do well to look to the online forums that have been around for so long as a good model. With as much good will as they have from their community, Ars can sell subscriptions giving things that cost Ars NOTHING. Like adding "et Subscriptor" to the end of a profile name. Or posting privileges in a private forum. Or the ability to post in html. People are paying $50 for status symbols in the community.
- Pay what you will model Like Radiohead famously did for their album In Rainbows. "Sell" your subscriptions for online (or Mobile or Kindle or heck, even print) for however much customers decide they want to pay.
- Remember customer service Who are your customers? Advertisers. What service are you providing to them? Reaching their customers. Selling more display ads isn't always the best way of doing that. If you can help your advertisers succeed you will too.
Some of these may be infeasible, or even unethical so tear em apart and come up with better ones.