As promised, here are some ideas for new business models for professional journalism. This is geared towards established companies rather than start-ups.
I’m ignoring established revenue streams. Not necessarily because I don’t think they can’t work, but because I’m trying to focus on new ideas. I don’t necessarily think the following ideas can successfully support massive newsrooms on their own – but they could certainly bring in additional revenue. Think of this as a proof of concept that there’s room for innovation in news media business models.
Leverage archives and brand
What do the established media companies have that upstart online companies and bloggers don’t? Massive archives of content – decades of material. How can this be leveraged to make more money and fund the newsrooms producing new content?
The other thing established newspapers and magazines have is a recognizable brand. More on that later.
Idea # 1: Provide business information services – compete with LexisNexis
I don’t know exactly how LexisNexis works. I assume they license archives from the New York Times and others. So this is already a revenue stream for the papers who sell content to Nexis.
But what if they fired the middleman and expanded their offerings? Gannet, AP, Reuters, the New York Times, the Washington Post Company, and a few other companies could find ways to offer a lot of value. The Time’s open search API is interesting, and the possible start of “newspapers as platforms.”
They’d have to compete head-on with Google (I assume Nexis already is) to provide premium business with premium access programs and meaningful search systems. Business intelligence companies might be good acquisition targets. The key to success here will be not in just dumping tons of raw data on companies, but finding unique and useful ways to sort it and find value in it. Which is exactly what newspapers are supposed to be doing for the public.
There’s a conflict of interest potential here, but I’m not sure having a few big “business information service” clients is any worse a conflict than having a few big advertisers.
Idea # 2: Offer archival material – maybe personalized
Time has a publicly accessible online archive of all their articles all the way back to their beginnings in 1923, including covers. This seems really smart since they can run ads on all these millions of pages (I don’t know if they make more than way than by selling to Nexus and similar databases, or if offering everything up for free like that prohibits them from also selling to databases). They also have special collections based around particular themes or people, like World War II and Johnn Lennon.
The New Yorker sells a DVD of their complete archives. I don’t know if there’s any sort of topical sorting features on the DVD to help you find stuff based around a theme.
But here’s an idea: Couldn’t Time, The New Yorker, and any other magazine or newspaper with sufficiently deep and archives and quality content sell hard cover commemorative books and/or slipcase editions on topics of special interest to collectors (like WWII, John Lennon, JFK, Marilyn Monroe). Books of photos, stories, covers, etc.
I’m sure a few such thing already exist, but it seems there could be quite a market for such products.
When Time published their archives my friend and Buckminster Fuller historian Trevor Blake went through their archives to read everything they had ever published about Bucky. I don’t know if there would be a huge market for, say, a Harper’s Buckminster Fuller Archive but it gives me another idea: media companies could partner with print on demand services like Lulu to sell special customized archives of material from their archives. Build a simple interface to let people drag and drop text and pictures into a template and charge them a premium for a nice hardbound collection of material. Maybe even let them make their customized books available for sale and cut them in on the profit.
Idea 3: re-invent the online classified
There’s only so much leverage a small local paper or alt-weekly can get out of its archives. But they do still have their brand names. So whatever online offerings they may have will probably draw a lot of attention – the trick is to monetize it.
Papers have been complaining that Craig’s List killed their classifieds, and are therefore killing their papers. I’ve got news for them: Craig’s List is far from perfect. It’s ugly. It’s been years since there’s been any significant improvement (since the addition of RSS feeds I’d say).
There’s plenty of room for local papers to compete with Craig’s List. They just don’t want to have to give the bulk of their classifieds out for free. Why not? Craig’s List changed the game (actually, eBay did even before that), so it’s time for papers to start playing it. Simply Hired and Indeed compete with CL for job listings. OK Cupid competes with them for personals. Cars.com competes with them for auto listings. Get in the game.
Select Alternatives is making some headway here, offering online personal sites for alt. weeklies. The Portland Mercury uses ’em and I’ve heard very good things.
Hint: there are major opportunities in geolocative services.
In short: papers should be acquiring and partnering with tech companies, and hiring innovative software developers. There are plenty of untapped markets that newspapers are in a unique position to take advantage of if they’re willing to experiment and innovate before it’s too late.