Michael Learmonth has written an article for AdAge called Wanted: Online Payment Plan for Print, subtitled: As Everyone Weighs in on How to Save the Business, the Question Is Whether Consumers Will Cough up for Content They Can Get for Free.
I’ve spent years monitoring this problem and just about as long incubating on it, and while my plan – that is “Dawn’s Plan” – may not be perfect, I believe it is the best hope for saving journalism.
The key to solving the “how to pay for journalism in a digital age” dilemma is to understand the Square Triangle and adapt it to the Web, as I’ve introduced here.
Journalism has been supported by advertising for at least a few hundred years and there is no need to deviate from that success now. The key is to implement an advertising system that actually works. As Mr. Learmonth reports, banner ads certainly are not it. CPM is a total waste, and CPC generates massive fraud.
Here is an outline of how my plan works to monetize journalism via effective advertising:
1) First, we create a substitute for email (I call it Swig) that is based on the same technologies as Twitter and Friendfeed. The space is divided as we naturally divide and manage our offline space: Intimate, Private, Social and Public. Newspaper and magazine stories will be part of the public feeds, as will advertising.
2) Users of Swig will be able to “thin slice” themselves into their roles and interests or “hats.” So you will participate in social and public discussions (and even some private conversations) based on whichever one of your hats you choose to currently wear. Not only does this allow members to easily find information they will be interested in (and allows the system to aggregate all the best information related to that hat), but it also creates space for very targeted ads. An elegant low-tech user-empowered alternative to all the nefarious data mining that currently drives ads.
3) Key to making this work is to acknowledge that the above ad inventory (i.e., the space for ads that is generated when you converse online) rightfully belongs to the person writing the content. Users will therefore get to choose which ads are allowed on their pages, if any; in other words, you will promote only those goods and services you wish to support and only where you want them to be. As your social graph (i.e., your friends, family and followers) engages with these ads (which can be different types of multimedia, depending on the ad’s goal), then you will earn money.
4) Now this is where journalism comes in. Professional media will get “first engagement rights.” Remember, you make money when your friends, co-workers, etc. engage with the ads you have chosen for your pages. But how are you exposed to the ads in the first place? The ads will be fed to you attached to news articles related to the hat you are wearing as you surf information. When you yourself engage with these ads, you don’t make the generated money, the media outlet does. Not only that, but if you choose to “swig” one of these ads [that is, take it and put it on your appropriate page(s)], then when your social graph in turn engages with these ads, the media outlet will continue to earn a cut. And as your friends swig ad copies off of yours to expose to their own social graphs, you and the media outlet will both take a cut of generated income. So newspapers and magazines will be paid by readers’ attentions who aren’t necessarily their own readers!
5) This system requires that newspapers and magazines break up their feeds into the same hats that Swig users create. Sports Nut, Movie Buff, Dog Lover, Political Junkie, Business Owner, Catholic, Biker,…. The reality is, professional journalists and everyday folks write about the same things. Media hats and user hats will not be in conflict but will naturally conflate.
6) Okay, so where do the ads that are on your news article feeds come from? From the existing ad departments of newspapers and magazines. These departments are underutilized assets that should be leveraged. Facebook is hiring tons of ad people. That’s crazy, to my mind. They should stick to technology instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and their own corporate culture. There are already boots on the ground in every community in almost every country around the world. This system makes local advertising as feasible and effective as national advertising, which will put billions of dollars into the hands of newspapers, magazines and Swig users. For the first time, demand generation advertising will work online. (Search is about demand fulfillment and does nothing to create demand.) Creating brand awareness and increasing consumer demand worldwide will help save the global economy as well as journalism.
Will this work? One indication that it will is the fact that there are over 200 million abandoned blogs on the Web. That’s a lot of people wanting to “join the conversation” but who found it too demanding, too troll-filled, or too lonely with nobody commenting back. Why be stuck to a rigid format that demands you focus on one or two subjects if your desire is to build up a big enough audience to earn money? Why can’t you earn money from one post here about this subject, or another post there about that subject?
What Dawn’s Plan essentially does is make individual users the center of their own online universe. Information will orbit you, rather than you having to go to multiple websites. And your every contribution, no matter how much you participate, can be potentially monetized.
Newspapers and magazines need to be able to orbit users where we are and where we’re talking, instead of having only destination sites. If they thin slice their feeds the way Swig users will thin slice themselves, then the attached advertising will be targeted and appreciated as a service rather than an irrelevant affront.
This system elevates readers as co-publishers who have a financial stake, too. If newspapers and magazines are willing to allow that, then they can continue to make money in this digital age. Yes, they will have to share it, but they will still get a lion’s share.
If newspapers refuse to do this, it’s doubtful that they will survive. Without effective online advertising, it’s very unlikely that existing newspapers will make it. And until and unless consumers themselves get control of ad distribution, online advertising will remain broken.
Of course, some users will make a lot of money and others will make little, but having advertising recommendation-based means everybody should have a lot more confidence in their spending (which will again help the economy!). Furthermore, you will undoubtedly be exposed to special offers and invitations, so even if you don’t earn a lot of money, you can potential save a lot of money.
With some of the earnings, users will be able to buy digital content from artists, photographers, app developers, musicians and so on, which will make their pages more alluring and help them make more money off advertising. It’s the same way newspaper syndication works, just on a micro level.
The Square Triangle will succeed if only it’s implemented. And it won’t be that difficult to execute. There is no required technology that doesn’t exist right now. It’s simply a matter of partnering technology with anthropology and merging all stake holders in a symbiotic fashion.
If you want more details, look here. You can also read my other posts, as they are all pretty much related to my plan in one way or another.