At the recently concluded Digipub World, our convention on the business of web publishing, Colin Morrison, who co-runs Flashes & Flames, a media blog, spoke about the non-Indian media market. The commonality across all markets, of course, is - everyone wants to make money from media. So he focused on the business side of publishing.
Colin started by defining 'media' in the most fundamental sense: Traditionally, media has been an aggregated collection of things, some of which the reader never asked for or wanted. Media has always been a bundle of things, a mix of what people choose, what they put up with... and some material that they hoped would be covered but was left out. Content was a combination of exclusive material (the stuff that keeps media brands in business) and non-exclusive material (that's freely available everywhere).
It was, essentially, "a privileged world where we did what we liked," said Colin, about the western media industry of yore, "Print media was spoiled by advertising..." Media businesses kept growing, and the growth was completely unrelated to their ability to win readers and was not always in proportion to the cover price or circulation figures. "Sometimes, just by pumping out free copies of newspapers, the better you did on advertising..." he said, slipping into an amusing analogy to support his point about the trap traditional media was in back then: If Heinz baked beans were sponsored, they wouldn't care about the content, would they?
"Digital media has to learn to live without much advertising, if any," said Colin, reiterating the need for web publishers to break free from the dominant ad-driven business model that, in his opinion, helped "ruin" the collective print media industry in the west. The "damage" advertising did was - "it turned publishers' attention away from the reader."
"Advertising is a derivative, it can't be the core business... it doesn't mean advertising doesn't have a place; it just means, mostly, we're having to choose between 'readers for revenue' and 'advertisers for revenue'," said Colin, foreseeing times in which readers will pay for specific content. Advertising will sustain "free media," that's broader, less specific and more commoditised, he predicted. And the web, unlike print newspapers, affords un-bundling of content - readers can pick exactly and only what they desire and not endure content they don't care about for the sake of that one piece they do want to consume.
Today, readers are not "endlessly loyal" to media brands like they used to be back when the supply of content was limited, when people believed everything they read, and were hugely dependent on a relatively small number of sources for their daily dose of information. Newspaper brands were, in turn, completely averse to as much as mentioning the names of rival publications. But in the digital world, readers "search around" for content and web publishers acknowledge the existence of one another, rivals included, in many ways (names are mentioned, referral links are given, quotes are taken -with credit- from other sites, et cetera). Today, the "one-source reader" is dead and "web publishers' hold on their readers is tenuous."
Colin then spoke about the blurring lines between media, retail and e-commerce companies (watch the video embedded in this article for details; he gave several examples of existing media businesses at this stage).
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There will always be a market of some sort for all kinds of things, even for loose curation of information. Within this reality, real value can be sought by "producing, marketing and distributing information that only you have... and keeping it such that only you have it." That, to him, is a viable, channel-agnostic business model. And the internet rewards specialisation. So web publishers that serve specialised content to a niche set of highly interested readers will do well in the days ahead. He also touched upon the importance of staying ahead of the tech curve.
Event partners - Timesnownews.com (platinum partner), Akamai and Facebook (silver partners), and Freshworks, Vidooly, comScore, Quintype, Times Internet and 24 Frames Digital (bronze partners).
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