New Model Journalism

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Narratively: long, slow journalism from The City that Never Sleeps

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

The new longform website Narratively has attracted interest ‘beyond our wildest dreams’, according to founder Noah Rosenberg. Even before its launch earlier this month, coverage of the New York-based magazine has been wide, while expressions of support have come via social media from around the world.

Such enthusiasm, thinks Rosenberg, is a measure of the appetite for in-depth storytelling not dictated by the 24/7 news agenda, and of a desire to get under the skin of a city such as New York which could easily be replicated in other parts of the world.

‘I’ve realised we have a readership which is beyond our base in New York,’ he says. ‘There are people who want the “slow journalism” approach'”.

The finance for the first six months came via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Rosenberg looked at other quality journalism projects and saw that longform science journalism project Matter, for example, hit its $50 000 target within a few days.

Rosenberg decided to adopt a similar approach for the start-up, and $53 000 was raised for Narratively. Meanwhile, the fundraising process created considerable publicity: ‘It’s not just a way to generate the money,’ he says. ‘It’s also a way to generate a tremendous amount of exposure.’

Narratively backers can choose from a series of packages which give you more involvement the more you pay. $10, for example, buys the opportunity to vote on the themes to be covered during the launch period, while for $10 000 the Narratively team will fly out and spend a week covering ‘under-the-radar human-interest stories from the location of your choice’. (No one, so far, has gone for this.) In between, are a range of packages which include dining events, customised products and the services of a photojournalist.

The Kickstarter appeal secured around 800 backers, a number of whom, Rosenberg admits, are close friends and family. The rest are made up of journalists passionate about the project and consumers looking forward to a good, in-depth read. The pledges he’s proudest to have secured, he says, are the lowest amounts, indicating a vote of confidence from those who don’t have much cash.

The project has been in-the-gestation for the past couple of years, as Rosenberg has gradually been getting other media professionals on board. Weekly editorial meetings in a New York cafe have attracted a dozen to forty journalists all keen to contribute. To date, no one has been paid for their work, including Rosenberg, who has been supporting himself on a modest freelance income supplemented by savings.

But from now on, he says, contributors will be paid ‘a few hundred dollars a piece’, a rate which he hopes will rise to the level of the fees paid in the freelance marketplace.

How far is this is feasible will depend on the success of the three-pronged business model designed to sustain Narratively after the first six months. Discussions with advertisers begin this week. Then comes the possibility of syndication to a global media prepared to pay for high-quality content about The Big Apple. But the key plank is to be a premium membership/subscription package which will buy readers access to exclusive content such as a monthly ebook, interactive city guides, and live storytelling events.

The scheme is designed to create the ‘sense of community’ – aka brand relationship – between publication and readership that has long been at the heart of established media, while quietly selling non-editorial products as part of the package.

Further down the road, Rosenberg envisages an occasional print edition and expansion into other cities.

What’s not to like? As is so often the case in this brave new world of media pioneers, the editorial aspirations are laudable and there is doubtless an appetite among readers for what the Narratively team can produce. It remains to be seen whether the money will follow.

Written by Alex

September 17th, 2012 at 7:51 am

OUT NOW: Free ebooklet for writers from New Model Journalism

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By Alex Klaushofer.

Against the background of change and struggle that has afflicted the media and publishing in recent years, one strand of good news has consistently emerged. This good news story of the crisis in journalism tells of innovation and experimentation, of pioneering practices and the opening up of new frontiers, as writers of all kinds develop cutting-edge models to sustain quality work.

So we’re pleased to have the opportunity to gather together some of the best, and most distinctive, examples of this pioneering trend. Some of the case studies, such as Disability News Service and iPad magazine Sail Racing, are updates on initiatives we’ve been tracking for a while. It’s been great to see them going from strength to strength, refining their models as they do so.

Other experiments, such as community newspaper The Ambler or author Simon Winchester’s enhanced app Skulls, are new to us or have received little coverage in the British media press. Most are working as individuals or in small groups, and all are entrepreneurial – but not relentlessly so. Some are combining their new projects with other ambitions or commitments, fitting them into their own temperaments and particular circumstances. In every case, the innovators share the lessons learnt (so far), details of the nuts and bolts of their models, and offer ideas on how their models might be replicated by others.

The forthcoming e-pamphlet has been generously sponsored by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society and supported by the NUJ. Freely available to members of both organisations, it is effectively a gift to the writing community. The hope is that readers will draw both inspiration and practical advice from its contents.

‘Help yourself: New ways to make copyright pay’, is available here.

Written by Alex

July 2nd, 2012 at 6:13 am

Clutch of hyperlocal newspapers launch in south London

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Friday saw a strange phenonmenon in Media Land: the launch of seven hyperlocal newspapers across south London. The weekly newspaper South London Press, now nearly a hundred and fifty years old, is printing seven editions specific to particular areas. Streatham, Brixton, Wimbledon, Wandsworth, Dulwich, Deptford & New Cross and Forest Hill & Sydenham are to get their own papers, while a stand-alone edition will continue to be sold in areas without hyperlocal editions. All have a cover price of 50p.

Given that local papers have long been at the sharp end of the crisis in journalism, can such a move be successful? Proprietor Sir Ray Tindle, the eighty-something owner of over 200 local papers, is well-known for his upbeat attitude to the difficulties of local journalism. His papers have continued to thrive during the downturn, and in June 2011 he launched fortnightly hyperlocal The Chingford Times, which is reportedly doing well.

The key to success is, apparently, lies in a hyperlocal approach to news that is rooted in old-fashioned journalistic values rather than a trend emerging out of the digital revolution. When taking over the failing Tenby Observer, Sir Ray’s first move was to reverse a decision to extend coverage to several towns. Every line of every story must relate to Tenby, he instructed: ‘A cat must not have kittens in Tenby unless it’s covered in the Observer’.

Yet coverage at this level of detail is labour-intensive and so costly. It is not clear whether any more staff have been taken on at the South London Press, but Sir Ray’s comments, quoted by the Press Gazette, will speak volumes to anyone who has worked in a newsroom during these difficult times: ‘I stood up last Friday afternoon and asked if they could do it in 14 days. Somebody whispered to me, ‘you’re asking them to do six new paid-for papers in six working days’, and I said, “these people can do it”.’

At the same time, in the responses posted to news of the launch, experts including James Hatts, veteran hyperlocal editor of SE1, observe that the main edition of South London Press has been thin on content for some time.

A new crop of print hyperlocals launched by lone operators suggest that the South London Press may be missing another key ingredient to success. In founding the filtonvoice, a monthly newsy magazine serving an area of Bristol, Richard Coulter says that rootedness in the community is essential: ‘You have to live in the neighbourhood to do this properly. I don’t think you could do it remotely,’ he says. The magazine has been an immediate success with readers, both in terms of editorial and advertising, and was profitable from Issue One.

Between Sydenham and Streatham, two of the areas served by the new South London Press hyperlocals, lies Crystal Palace, also with its monthly lifestyle magazine The Transmitter. Printed on high-quality paper, full of photos with local people and places and contributions by residents, the publication oozes the kind of celebratory granularity that digital hyperlocals have developed so well.

Publisher-editor Andy Pontin admits that the magazine makes a small loss, but adds that this situation could be quite easily changed: ‘My personal issue is that I have a full time job and four kids, so how I manage my time is to jettison any attempt to get advertising in order to focus what little time I have on the magazine editorial and photography, which is my hobby,’ he says. ‘If I, or someone on a commission basis, spent more time trying to get ads, then I am 99% positive it would be in profit.’

Time will tell whether the new generation of South London Press hyperlocals can combine the virtues of old-fashioned journalism with the allure of organically-grown publications.

Written by Alex

June 11th, 2012 at 4:51 am

New, print and profitable – a new model for hyperlocals

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Print is dying, and hyperlocal websites notoriously difficult to make pay. But one recently-established community magazine is challenging these orthodoxies of the digital age.

Monthly magazine The filtonvoice is the brainchild of Richard Coulter, a former staffer on The Bristol Evening Post. Having taken redundancy from the struggling newspaper, Coulter looked around and noticed that Filton, a well-defined part of Bristol with a population of around 12,000, had local publications aplenty. And they were full of adverts. Yet the editorial material was poor or non-existent.

‘I thought, if I can tap into the commercial success but bring some of the skills that I have in terms of the content, there might be a model here”,’ he told NMJ.

Coulter persuaded the former ad manager of The Evening Post to sell ads on a commission-only basis. Local businesses immediately took space, and Issue One of filtonvoice, published in October 2011 with 16 pages, went immediately into profit.

The page length soon went up to 32, and eight editions later, the magazine hovers between 40-48 pages, depending on how many ads have been sold; since he is not charging for the publication, Coulter feels no obligation to commit to a certain length.

Around 5000 magazines are printed each month and delivered door-to-door by a small team, or left at pick-up points in local shops and community centres.

‘The feedback has been very positive,’ says Coulter. ‘People say it’s just what was needed. They are surprised how much goes on in the community.’

Meanwhile, the advertising revenue the magazine generates pays him a decent wage for the two-and-half-day week he spends on producing it – around 40% of what he was earning as a staff journalist.

In Coulter’s view, the experiment demonstrates that there is an enduring appetite for print publications serving local communities, as well as a market for the advertising to sustain them. He has no plans to go digital-only.

‘I’m not going to get to the point where we don’t need the magazine anymore,’ he says. ‘My view is that I simply do not see where there’s any revenue for news websites digitally.’

He prioritises print, publishing material online only after it has appeared in the magazine. No web-only advertising rates are offered, and so far only one client has requested an online advert.

The keys to success, Coulter thinks, lie in having a well-defined niche with the means to advertise, something that can be replicated by other entrepreneurial journalists in many areas and sectors.

‘Just plunge in and have a go,’ he advises. ‘There is a way of setting this up and being profitable from Day One.’

A fuller version of this case study will appear in ‘New Ways to Make Copyright Pay’, an ebook of pioneering practice that New Model Journalism is producing for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society

Written by Alex

May 28th, 2012 at 4:29 am

Cultural inertia threatens newspaper revenues

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New research from the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism lays bare the struggle being endured by existing print media and it tries to reposition its business for a digital age.  On the promise on anonymity, Pew researchers persuaded 38 newspapers (mostly in the US), from six different companies, to share a significant body of internal data.

With exceptions, the picture that emerges is this.  For every $1 that these papers gained from new digital ventures, they lost $7 from traditional print revenue.   Some lost revenue from both sources last year.  As well as crunching a lot of figures, the Pew researchers also interviewed many senior executives –and the picture that emerges from them is as fascinating as it is depressing.

For the moment, the bulk of newspaper revenue comes from traditional print sources.  Having long enjoyed local advertising monopolies, their business operations find it difficult to turn their attention from the large, if declining receipts from this source.  Digital income might be growing, but until it forms a larger proportion of those newspapers’ incomes, it is unlikely to be the focus of their activity.

The risks of waiting for this to happen, however, are considerable – as David Parkin has shown with thebusinessdesk.com.  He was able to attract advertisers from his old employer The Yorkshire Post, with a dramatically cheaper ratecard and the absolutely dependable metrics of click-through.  Pew characterise the ‘heritage’ media as suffering ‘cultural inertia’ when trying to shift the focus of their businesses.

There are glimmers of light in the Pew report.  One of the papers that generated most digital revenue, was selling targeted digital advertising that was customised around customers online behaviour.  The company in question considered this to be its biggest likely growth area – but was the only one of the 38 papers selling this kind of smart advertising.

Another company was buttressing its traditional newspaper business with a consulting business to help its advertisers and other businesses to position themselves in the digital landscape.

The scale of the mountain that newspapers need to climb can be gauged from The Guardian’s sometimes frenetic efforts to dramatically grow its digital revenue – after a decade of trying.  Its latest volley of initiatives, including massive above-the-line brand advertising, Facebook apps, and a version of the newspaper being offered on tv.  These come with the stated ambition of doubling the £45m revenue that the paper currently generates online.  Given that GMG, The Guardian’s holding company, made trading losses of £46.2m in 2009/10, the urgency of this task is obvious.

No doubt more newspapers will survive the next decade that some naysayers allow for.  I suspect that the ones that are most likely to endure will be those that transform their businesses so completely that they are scarcely recognisable to those who know them in their current forms.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

March 12th, 2012 at 7:45 am

Cycling polemicist strikes viral paydirt

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Case study by Tim

Writing his Bike To Work book, Carlton Reid’s intention was to produce a conventional printed tome.  A trade publisher of 25 years experience, his business model was simple – sell sufficient advertisements to pay for the book and then give away the product.   Creating an eBook was an afterthought.   Nevertheless, in the two years since it was published, it has been downloaded more than 350,000 times and generated around £25,000 worth of advertising revenue.

Reid wrote, edited, designed and laid-up the book and took all but ten of the photographs.  “I am self-taught in publishing in the round”, he explains.  He also identified the advertisers, but the deals were all closed by his long-time business associate – his father.  “Being one-person removed from the selling keeps me (editorially) clean”.

When the book took longer to complete than he expected, he put the finished product online first – it went viral, and print was abandoned (save for a print-on-demand edition).

The book has appeared in many versions – some being distributed by third parties like the London Cycle Campaign.  But digital distribution is all though Issuu, the Danish self-publishing platform.  Reid generates a final pdf and then loads in on to Issuu’s server.  Conversion into a format that can be read on computers and tablets such at the iPad and the Kindle happens automatically.

“I was one of the first UK publishers on Issuu and they did publicise the book at first, which was a great help.  It is still the best platform, as far as I am concerned, and everything they do is free”, he says.  One of the many appeals of their service is the diagnostics.  Of course they show how many times the book has been downloaded, but they also track how far into the book people read.

“There is a huge spike in the first ten pages, as you would expect”, says Reid.  “But you can also see how many people have actually opened up every page.  You can show advertisers that, say 15,000 people have viewed your advert.  That is something that no newspaper can do, and I think that it has actually converted a lot of our advertisers to eBooks as an advertising vehicle.”

So successful has the Bike To Work been, that Reid has turned down conventional publishers who offered to take on his next venture.  To be published in the early Spring, Roads Were Not Built For Cars will be a history of roads and road improvements in the decades before the motor car.  As with his previous book, Reid’s intentions are more polemical than commercial.  Nevertheless, the early signs are that he has found another successful niche.  An eight-page sampler has been downloaded 11,000 times – in part generated by an energetic Twitter campaign.

Although he has been in business his entire working life – he set up and subsequently sold the trade magazine Bike Biz – Reid’s philosophy is decidedly non commercial.  “I don’t factor in my own time at all, because I enjoy what I do and I would be doing it even if it did not make a bean”, he says.  He is by no means the first inadvertent capitalist – but unlike many he seems quite content to pursue his own projects while his commercial interests thrive in an apparently parallel universe.

 

Written by Tim Dawson

December 19th, 2011 at 8:45 am

Come the revolution, Sister – if we can afford it

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

My last blog reported on the curious absence of women among the pioneers of digital journalism – a regressive trend seen by some as symptomatic as an emerging form of e-patriarchy.

But hang on, isn’t the beauty of the digital age the new opportunities it opens up, the way it affords everyone, including those historically with the least access to the means of (print) production, to have a voice? In theory, the digital revolution should bring us a new era of protest and debate, in which old hierarchies can be challenged and more powerful, inclusive forms of campaigning created. At the very least, you get a few good feminist websites.

Let’s head over, virtually speaking, to one such. Run by a team of volunteers, The f-word started as a forum for reviews in 2001, becoming a collective blog several years later. Yet ten years on, the team is only just starting to think about a business model, and are finally putting together a funding committee to look at ways of bringing in revenue.

With the only revenue raised so far having come via an appeal on a blog for donations to cover the costs of a re-design, attempts at income generation have been ‘slow-going’, admits music review editor Holly Combe.

But looking back, she goes on, it would have been almost inimical to the spirit of the project to think in cold commercial terms.

‘A lot of women have come together to do something that’s almost anti-organisation, and anti-business model,’ she says. ‘Gradually they do more and more, and then they start to wonder how they’re going continue to do it, and earn a living.’

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a stellar example of a website run by and for women. With revenue of £3 million this year, Mumsnet can hardly be accused of not being business-like. And, with 1.7 million unique users a month, it uses its considerable influence to campaign on behalf of women, raising everything from the over-sexualisation of girls to the impact of night car parking charges on women.

Yet the path to success was hardly a clear, or even a thought-out one. For the first few years, according to co-founder Justine Roberts, the aim was simply to provide a forum for parents to exchange ideas and support each other. The site’s campaigning voice first emerged when an advert about Madeleine McCann advert caused an outcry among Mumsnet members. As time went on, politicans started to take notice of this vocal constituency, but it wasn’t until the ‘Mumsnet election’ of 2009 that the company finally decided to invest in some dedicated campaigning staff.

‘We didn’t start off with the intention that we would be a campaigning website,’ says Roberts. ‘We became large enough and attracted the interest of politicians. We thought it would be remiss of us not to use that access.’

Even more compellingly, she admits that the first business model she drew up in 1999, based on e-commerce, ‘wasn’t worth the paper it was written on’. But while its contemporaries over-invested in costly infrastructure, Mumsnet survived, thanks to a low-cost, slow-grow approach which enabled it to gradually build large numbers of engaged visitors. Running the site was effectively a voluntary job for years, with its founders relying on the family income earned by their partners. (Roberts is married to Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz.)

Yet – and here comes the paradox at the heart of the Mumsnet model – Roberts acknowledges that the site’s success depends on, well, its success. ‘Having a voice that people will listen to means that you have to have scale,’ she says. ‘The only way your voice will be effective is to have scale. You have to have a business model that works. It’s chicken and egg.’

The Mumsnet secret, it seems, boils down to a blend of hard graft, patience and something that its more idealistic counterparts lack – a canny willingness to identify and act on commercial opportunities. The site is now entirely sustained by advertising, to the point where even media folk wanting to access its membership are sent to a Worldpay page charging £30.

In July this year, the site launched the Bloggers Network, a scheme allowing contributers to take a share of revenue based on the number of page views their work generates. ‘It doesn’t feel right to take people’s work and publish it without sharing the potential revenue,’ says Roberts. ‘The Huffington Post model didn’t feel right for Mumsnet.’

But, the almost serendipitous success of Mumsnet aside, the problem of how to sustain campaigning websites remains. Courtney Martin, editor of
Feministing, a US blog started in 2004 and run entirely by women in other full time jobs, puts it starkly:

‘So I’m sitting here, mindful of my own legacy and very struck that what one might reasonable argue is the most robust, powerful medium for feminism today is being created in a truly unsustainable way,’ she writes in a post earlier this year. ‘I start to daydream about all of the amazing things we might be able to do if we actually had the funding, space, and time to do more than keep our heads above water.

‘I just can’t shake the feeling that one of the biggest mistakes my own generation is making is accepting the status quo of an unsupported blogosphere and losing the opportunity to make an even larger impact,’ she adds.

Written by Alex

December 12th, 2011 at 5:33 am

Under the spotlight: Citizen journalism site Blottr

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Since launching a little over a year ago, Blottr, or ‘the people powered news service’, has been growing exponentially.

With regional sites covering eight UK cities including London and Leeds, Blottr has recently expanded overseas, launching sites in France and Germany. Its traffic is impressive – 1.6 million unique users a month, or nearly four million page impressions – and the site’s own research suggests that the demographic of the readers is reassuringly mainstream: a quarter are students, and the rest an equal male-female split of adults aged 18-52.

Founder Adam Baker, a former digital projects director at Northcliffe Media,
is evangelical about the ability of a news service largely created by ordinary people to ‘disrupt’, as he puts it, the practices of traditional media organisations increasingly struggling to put reporters on the ground. ‘That’s the power of citizen journalism’, he says. ‘People at the scene are best placed to report it.’

‘The riots did us a massive favour,’ he adds. ‘We got nearly three million unique users over three days that propelled us into mainstream awareness, and broke the riots exclusively in Ealing and Woolwich.’

He also claims that Blottr published the first footage of the shooting of Gaddafi in Europe, just eight minutes after the event, considerably before mainstream media such as Sky.

The 24-hour news operation is overseen by a single editor supported by a handful of community and country managers, who monitor the content contributed by the public and alter it, post-publication, only if it is libellous, malicious, offensive or grammatically faulty. But editorial influence of a more traditional kind is exerted over the home page, which highlights selected stories deemed most likely to appeal to the Blottr readership.

The site’s revenue-sharing scheme pays selected contributors £1 per thousand views, an arrangement which says a lot about the way the model privileges popularity over labour; contributors are invited to join the scheme only after they have proved that they will be of continuing value to the site by regularly pulling in the punters via social media.

‘It rewards them for the popularity of their content; they’re not getting paid to write; they’re getting paid to promote their story,’ Baker explains. ‘It’s based on how valuable they are to us – they can write one brilliant post, but if they don’t write regularly, they’re not going to go on it.’ (The contributor of the Gaddafi photo-scoop, for example, did not get paid.)

Early indications suggest that, for the chosen few – about a hundred out of nearly 1600 contributors – the revenue-sharing scheme can be lucrative: ‘Last week we paid someone £230 for a three paragraph article because it was really very popular,’ he says.

The scheme is in keeping with another unusual feature of the site, an ‘authentication algorithm’ which attributes influence to each contributor, breaking down the number of people who have contributed to a story, whether in the form of photos, videos or revisions and additions.

While Baker is unfazed by questions his model raises about the quality of such future journalism, his answers do reveal a certain respect for traditional reporting. Does he think the citizen-based news model will replace news-gathering by professional journalists?

‘It definitely won’t replace it,’ he says. ‘It’s not analytical enough – that’s the reason I pick up The Guardian every day.’

And he denies that there’s a risk, if things go as profitably as he hopes, of a Huffington Post-style rebellion from unpaid contributors in future. ‘We’re really different from the Huffington Post,’ says Baker. ‘The Huffington Post are looking for professional bloggers to contribute content without being paid; that’s not what we’re trying to do.’

‘If you’re a journalist and you can’t get published elsewhere, a student trying to build a portfolio, or a member of the public just wanting to capture something, we provide a platform,’ he adds.

So far, the prospects for a profitable future are promising. Having been bankrolled for the first year by Baker, Blottr earlier this year secured a £1m investment from Mark Pearson, founder of web-marketing outfit Markco. ‘We’re not breaking even yet, but we’re close to it,’ says Baker. ‘We’re ahead of our projections, especially for traffic and revenue.’

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the revenue comes from non-traditional sources. Some 80% comes by selling licenses for the software developed to enable the Blottr’s user-generated content to other publishers, now branded as Newspoint; the remaining 20% comes from self-serve advertising in the Gumtree mould, persuading customers able to advertise events and services free to pay to have their adverts promoted.

It’s hard to tell, at this stage in Blottr’s development, whether the news site is really a basis for a new form of quality journalism, or whether it’s the product of a canny business mind that has seen an opportunity to ride a profitable new wave of technology and culture. But its early success certainly testifies not just to the healthy demand for web-based news, but also to the growing appetite of citizen journalists to report it.

If you have any feedback on Blottr or other initiatives reported on this site, please tweet us @newmodeljourno or email us directly.

Written by Alex

October 31st, 2011 at 7:14 am

Is digital revenue now the dominent source of income for publishers?

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Analysis by Tim Dawson.

Stevie Spring, chief executive of Future Publishing, says we have reached a ‘tipping point’ where digital magazine operations become more important than their paper forbears. 

Clearly, she was trying to put a positive gloss on the publishers’ annual figures – Future’s profits are down from £3m last year to £1.8m this year.
For the first time, digital revenue growth at Future has outstripped the decline in print advertising income. 

But Spring’s sense that we have reached a point where online content is the main game in town has more to it than spin.  Future is now offering 60 magazines in iPad editions, with sales up ‘tenfold’ year-on-year. 

And the Bath-based specialist publisher is by no means the only one who thinks that a year of iPads has changed the landscape beyond recognition. Forbes Media recently announced that more than half of its revenue now comes from digital operations.   

Later this week the Next Issue Media (NIM), will showcase Newsstand, a single digital platform that has been developed by some of America’s biggest publishing houses.  NIM includes Time Warner Inc.’s Time Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst Corp., Meredith Corp. and News Corp.  The application will allow users to download a single reader application from which they will be able to purchase and read titles such as The New Yorker, Time and Esquire.  Eventually 40 or 50 titles will be available.

There even seems to be a grudging acceptance outside Wapping that News International’s paywall might be at the very least a sustainable business model, even if subscription figures (reported to be around 80,000) have not set the heather alight.  Since NI introduced its paywall, The New York Times has started to charge for content viewed online, albeit they have not imposed a hard-and-fast paywall.

Dramatic as all of this is, however, I am inclined to think that it falls short of a ‘tipping point’.  In every case mentioned above, digital revenue is being used to buttress existing models.  The tipping point will surely come when some publications cease to appear as paper editions at all. Forbes, indeed, has just launched, with some fanfare, a new European edition in print.

We may reach the ‘tipping point’ very soon – when to continue a subscription to an existing publication, you have to go online.  But as I can’t yet think of a single publication where this has happened so far, I suspect that we have a good few years of paper publishing ahead of us yet.

Written by Tim Dawson

May 23rd, 2011 at 10:54 am

Want to profit from internet journalism? Here are three golden rules

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In Practice by Tim Dawson.

For the past six months, I have been teaching a course entitled Making Internet Journalism Pay.  After the last session that I delivered, I received some of the most complimentary notes of thanks of my professional career – and they came from over half the people taking the course.  It makes me think that I must have got something right.

It is a full day’s course, of practical instruction and looking at successful self-publishing examples in some detail.  There are, however, a few simple principles that I thought might be worth sharing here.  So, for the benefit of those of you who are unable to spend a day in a training suite in central London, here are my three top tips.

If you are relying on advertising for revenue, then there must be a close fit between content and purchasing decisions.

As many people know, it is childishly simple to add Google ads, or other affiliate advertising to a website.  However, unless readers are either drawn to the website in spectacular numbers, or there is a close connection between what you are writing about and imminent outlays of cash – the publisher will make almost nothing.

Sites that cover tech developments, for example, are generally read by people who like to buy tech.  If the stories are surrounded by attractive retail propositions, then at least some are likely to respond. 

By contrast, a website devoted to the history of medieval churches in Suffolk might be a work of brilliant scholarship that introduces a whole new world to knapped flintwork and the perpendicular tradition.  It is unlikely, however to make a bean from advertising, unless the publisher can think of some common buying interests shared by their readership.

Devoted as most journalists are to the brilliance of their stories, unless they give a little consideration to the web audience that they are able to deliver to advertisers, they will be giving their expertise away for free.

For a web site to fulfil its potential, at least as much time and resources must be devoted to promotion as to the editorial package

This is a nostrum that is as true today, as it was in the days when the press was king.  Journalists, by professional inclination, love the product but hate acting as salespeople.  Deep within them lies the belief that a brilliant product will sell itself. 

There is no better demonstration of this that Beehive City.  The media site bumped along, being read by friends and those who accidentally alighted upon their stories – until they adopted a programme of highly active promotion.  They have spilled the beans about just how they did it here.

If you want to make a living from self-published internet journalism, you need to develop a brand that can deliver multiple income streams

Advertising and subscriptions are grand – but both are vulnerable to factors wholly beyond your control.  The more ways that you can exploit your content and the brand that it creates, the more secure you will be. 

Those streams might be enormously diverse, from Guido Fawkes selling his best stories to the tabloids, to Indus Delta organising conferences for which readers pay to attend.  Some sites sell merchandise, others package premium content into pay-for products. Unless you are willing sweat your work for all that its worth, your sweat will be worth very little.

There endeth my moment as Samuel Smiles.  Suffice to say, if I were much good at taking my own advice, I would have retired to the Bahamas years ago.

Written by Tim Dawson

April 18th, 2011 at 1:37 am

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