DiA:Media is a business, and many of the media outlets that are doing the best business are those that tell their audiences what they want to hear, and those that pursue the politics-as-horse-race model. So how do we change the incentives in order to make the media more informative? Or does the public simply get the media it deserves?
Mr Rosen: Is The Economist in the business of telling its readers what they want to hear? Is that how the magazine is edited? I doubt it. But I hear the business is doing pretty well. So how is that possible? Look: the alternative to chasing clicks is building trust and an editorial brand. “What people want” arguments don’t impress me. I think anyone with a half a brain knows that you have to listen to demand and give people what they have no way to demand. You have to listen to them, and assert your authority from time to time, because listening well is what gives you the authority to recommend what is not immediately in demand.
Turns out Forbes has actually had a service similar to the Economist Intelligence Unit since 2008:
In news organizations’ efforts to diversify their revenue streams, one idea — custom research — is catching on. Global Post offers businesses “our global network of credentialed journalists to find authoritative answers to your urgent questions.” We recently wrote about Iraq Oil Report, a startup that provides paying clients on-the-ground answers to their Iraq questions — and which now generates 30 percent of its revenue from those research operations.
To launch that service, Iraq Oil Report hired a veteran of the bigger player in the space, the Economist Intelligence Unit. That’s also the path chosen by Forbes, which hired an Intelligence Unit veteran, Christiaan Rizy — at the time director of business development of EIU — to launch its own custom research operation in June 2008.
The Forbes Insights division, a 13-person operation spread throughout offices in New York, Austria, and India, is already profitable, Rizy told me. Its major product is a form of tailored journalism for high-paying corporate clients. (Rizy wouldn’t get into specifics on how much a project typically runs.) The program fits with Forbes’ broader strategy of expanding into products well beyond magazines and the ads that run in them; we recently profiled their corporate “reputation tracker,” another money-maker outside of ads.
I’ve been quite direct about the fact that blogs are not businesses. I believe that so many bloggers get so hung up on their medium that they haven’t stepped back to look at the big picture. A blog is a promotional medium and a communications platform. And in order to really monetize a blog, you have to ask the question: To what end?
What is your real product? What is the thing that you can provide to others in exchange for some of their money? […]
Most bloggers today operate in a dream world of made-up business rules. They try to make money with their blogs when they have nothing to sell. They’ll try to monetize the eyeballs only by littering the blog up with banner ads to sell other people’s stuff. It doesn’t take long for most bloggers to realize what a freaking difficult way to monetize a blog that is!
So many bloggers seem to think of their blog as a newspaper. Newspapers are monetized by ads. Guess what? Newspapers are disappearing left and right last time I checked. The model is limited and broken. So, why try to perpetuate it in a completely different medium?
No, the REAL answer to full-time incomes from blogs is to answer that question: What is my product? And if you don’t have one, you need to create one.
This sounds about right. It’s possible to make money from advertising on a blog – maybe even a living (in the journalism world, The West Seattle Blog is apparently doing well). But it’s damn hard. Selling a product or service is also very hard, but it’s far more realistic than selling advertising.
By the looks of it, Risley is in the “info product” business. Technically, this means selling any non-fiction or instructional content be a book, DVD, or e-book. Generally this means selling short high priced e-books (say, $100 for a 10 page PDF). I’m certainly not accusing Risley of this (the free e-book on his site is quite good, though I can’t speak to his paid products), but be warned: if you start to go down the “info product” rabbit hole, you’re going to find a greasey business full of hucksters who despise their marks. Not everyone in this business is sleazey, and there are plenty of good products out there.. But I can sum up at least 80% of the info products out there: they’re just explanations about how you can make money selling info products. But you’ll have to buy the next, more expensive info product to find out more. Hit up a torrent site, and you can find gigs of this trash.
ANYWAY. Info products are ultimately content, and I’m cynical right now about the future of selling content as a business model. But there’s probably good, honest money to be made here. Think about it – everything from The Economist special reports to Vice guides are “info products.” (That’s not an endorsement of either organization or their products, just examples).
I’m slightly more bullish on the prospects of selling services. That’s what I’ll be doing here at Mediapunk. (Though I do hope to come up with some “info products” [*gag*] to sell). There’s even potential for news organizations to move into this business in the future. To use The Economist as an example again, they have their Intelligence Unit that does business intelligence research for corporations. (See Future journalism business models: research and explanation services).
There’s plenty of other things you can sell – physical products, software, subscription services. But although “starting a business and using your blog to promote it” is fine advice, it’s far easier said than done.
An article in The Economist argues that neuroscience and neurotechnology, from Prozac to electromagnetic stimulation, are more important issues than genetic research. While cloning and stem-cell research has generated extensive debate, neuroscience has been moving ahead unhindered.