Why does Windows cost $183?

by Jason Preston on August 13, 2009

Or, for that matter, why does any other software product that is bought and sold online cost money? You can buy all kinds of software without ever leaving your chair, and those applications are (like news), really just bits and bytes – easily and freely replicable ad infinitum.

As far as I can tell, the important difference between software and news is that software tends to have perpetual utility. In other words, I bought my copy of Vista years ago, and it’s still useful to me today. The copy of the New York Times that I bought last week is already getting pretty stale.

If you want to charge money for your news, and I think you should, then you have to provide some lasting value to your offering; that may come in the form of access to well-maintained databases, or it may be a collection of member discounts (why do people becom Costco members?).

Maybe the way that people interact with your content is different? Maybe people who pay get a better browsing experience? Maybe they get desktop software?

Food for thought.

Objectivity doesn’t exist. Admit it.

by Jason Preston on August 10, 2009

This past Saturday, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times both covered the recent instances of violence at town hall meetings held by Democrats discussing health care reform (both on A1). The differences were striking:

From the Wall Street Journal:

Democrats have accused Republicans of manufacturing the opposition by organizing groups to attend the events and encouraging disruptive behavior. Republican organizers say the unrest reflects genuine anger about the proposed health-care changes.

Many lawmakers are now opting for smaller, more intimate meetings to hear from their constituents on issues such as health care, instead of town-hall meetings that have left them open to heckling and other distractions, health care reporter Janet Adamy discusses.

“Democrats may think that attacking or ignoring this growing chorus of Americans is a smart strategy, but they are obviously forgetting that these concerned citizens are voters as well,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm.

Rick Scott, who leads Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a group that has helped publicize the local meetings, said: “The polls reveal the real picture of what is happening across the country — people are genuinely concerned, some are genuinely angry, and they are expressing themselves.”

From the New York Times:

Democrats have said the protesters are being organized by conservative lobbying groups like FreedomWorks. Republicans respond that the protests are an organic response to the Obama administration’s health care restructuring proposals.

There is no dispute, however, that most of the shouting and mocking is from opponents of those plans. Many of those opponents have been encouraged to attend by conservative commentators and Web sites.

“Become a part of the mob!” said a banner posted Friday on the Web site of the talk show host Sean Hannity. “Attend an Obama Care Townhall near you!” The exhortations do not advocate violence, but some urge opponents to be disruptive.

“Pack the hall,” said a strategy memo circulated by the Web site Tea Party Patriots that instructed, “Yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

“Get him off his prepared script and agenda,” the memo continued. “Stand up and shout and sit right back down.”


The link economy

by Jason Preston on August 7, 2009

Do you believe in the link economy? Chris Aheard, President of Media at Reuters says he does:

I believe in the link economy. Please feel free to link to our stories — it adds value to all producers of content. I believe you should play fair and encourage your readers to read-around to what others are producing if you use it and find it interesting.

I don’t believe you could or should charge others for simply linking to your content. Appropriate excerpting and referencing are not only acceptable, but encouraged. If someone wants to create a business on the back of others’ original content, the parties should have a business relationship that benefits both.

And he’s right.

That last sentence is very important, though: If someone wants to create a business on the back of others’ original content, the parties should have a business relationship that benefits both.

There’s a big difference between commercial and noncommercial use. This has been a clear line in the software industry for ages.

Of course there are some new rules to take into account, too. Did you know that TechCrunch content shows up under the WashingtonPost masthead on wahsingtonpost.com?

Who knows if either one is paying the other. But if I were TechCrunch, I’d consider that placement worth a LOT of money, because I’m benefiting every day from people who have no idea what TechCrunch is, but find me, and trust me, because I’m protected by the umbrella of the Washington Post brand.

You think Google would have happened like it did if they hadn’t been used as Yahoo! search early on?

If you stop reading

by Jason Preston on August 6, 2009

in the middle of an article, it’s because I’ve failed to make it interesting.



by Jason Preston on August 5, 2009

How much money you can make is determined by how much money you’ll make a publication. At the obvious end of the spectrum, posting an exclusive article from Malcolm Gladwell is virtually guaranteed to draw an audience of millions and discussion all over the internet. That’s why the New Yorker pays him a bunch of money.

On the other end of the spectrum is, for argument, me (Jason Preston). I write OK, but my built in audience is much smaller than most, if not all, publications that aren’t just single-person blogs. If I do any writing for them, they’re doing me a favor because they’re enlarging my audience and my reputation.

Every time that happens, I get a little bit closer to Gladwell.

As the number of journalists working freelance continues to grow, the rules of the freelance game are going to start changing. Getting paid will no longer be a given; you’ll be paid according to your ability to hold people’s eyeballs to a screen.

Welcome to attention-driven media.


Cost per click ads are the worst thing that has ever happened to publishers, because it robs them of the opportunity to charge for the other, less tangible benefits of advertising. Gian Fulgoni, co-founder of Comscore (an internet measurement company) agrees with me:

Fulgoni says advertisers and marketers need to forget the click, focus on the sales impact on campaigns and conduct post-buy analysis. They also need to realize that display ads help search advertising succeed and vice versa. Don’t forget the power of creative display ads. Online branding campaigns can be effective. Internet advertising has had an impact on retail that is on par with television.

There are two major data points in that article:

  1. Online display drive offline sales
  2. Clicks don’t measure that

In fact, Fulgoni argues (and I agree), part of the reason big ad budgets are slow to shift to the internet is that publishers are pushing the wrong metrics; it’s time to abandon the click.


Fred Wilson says: tend your comments

by Jason Preston on July 29, 2009

The whole post, and everything he links to from his post, is (and are) worth reading. But here’s my favorite bit, regarding comment threads on newspaper articles:

It’s an issue for the news industry because tending to comment threads is not part of a journalist’s traditional job. But I would argue that it is now and they ought to get busy doing it. For one, the journalists that do it and do it well will be better read. And they’ll be better informed. They’ll get tips in the comment threads. They’ll get constructive criticism that will help them do their job better. And they’ll get leads on new stories before others will.


Three sure-fire ways to get more page views

by Jason Preston on July 24, 2009

Often, news organizations make the mistake of thinking they just want more page views. After all, if ad rates are tied to page views, then the more the merrier, right?

So with that in mind, here are some simple ways to boost your page views overnight:

Break into government and corporate files

What’s a little breaking and entering when you can get some tasty news from the inside? Printing secret memos are always a big attention driver, especially when you can show some dirty laundy in the process.

And of course, if you screw up, you can always cover your own failed burglary.

Start a war

Using your position as an information broker, and your network of distribution partners, work together to seed misinformation that leads to a war in a developed country. Wars, at least in the short term, tend to boost attention to the news, and especially to the outfit that accurately scoops every major development.

Starting wars can be a bit tricky, of course. So if that fails, you can always…

Make up disasters

Let’s be honest, people don’t really know what’s going on twenty, thirty miles away from them. It’s not like they’re going to get in their car and go see if there’s a mass suicide in backwater Idaho, or a sustained flood in Minnesota, or an unrelenting army of man-eating cockroaches in west Texas.

But they’ll definitely want to read about it. So just go ahead and pick some place new every couple of weeks, and introduce a thrilling disaster. You can put in a few sob stories, and then the two heroic brothers who put on waders and go back into the sea of cockroaches to save their 80-year-old grandmother. You know the drill.


Not all traffic is created equally

Targeted, relevant traffic at trustworthy brands is worth way more to an advertiser than simple random exposure. Think about who your advertisers are—or who you want your advertisers to be—and then work on generating the audience they’re interested in.

That, more than volume, will let you charge a premium for your pageviews.


Publish 2

by Jason Preston on July 23, 2009

A few days ago I started bugging Paul Balcerak and Ryan Sholin on Twitter about Publish 2 – what is it? Why should I care? Isn’t it just del.icio.us?

In response to my noise, Ryan was kind enough to give me a quick tour of Publish 2 yesterday morning. So what is it? Why should you care? And isn’t it just del.icio.us?

The short answer is: it’s kind of like del.icio.us, and you should probably care because it is a good way to grow your audience and your traffic.

Publish 2, like many other tagging services, allows you to “save” pages from around the web to a private or public list of links. What’s neat about Publish 2 is that it helps you collect useful, news-related metadata (you know…data about data?), and it makes it easy to integrate the links in its database with your web site.

For example, if I wanted to have a section of my sidebar track all news about the publishing industry, it’s a simple process to create a widget tracking all links tagged with “newspapers” (or something similar), and pace it on my site.

What does that mean for sites that write about newspapers? Their content tagged on Publish 2 gets free rotation in a larger network – if this were Google, they’d have to pay for that link.

There are some other interesting features, but I’m not a big Reviewer Of Things. If you’re interested, go ahead and contact Ryan or someone else at Publish 2, and I’m sure they’d be happy to help you or your organization get started.


Bureaucracy and newsrooms

by Jason Preston on July 22, 2009

John Gruber recently floated the notion that big newspapers are failing (while startup news operations are succeeding) because of bureaucracy. Mark Bernstein promptly disagreed, but, I’d like to note, doesn’t really disagree so much as quibble over semantics.

The fact is that both authors have a valid point: Gruber is right that large news organizations are struggling to support an infrastructure that they’ve built over profitable years producing a paper product. And Bernstein is right to say that this extra weight is not “bureaucracy,”— it’s muscle.

But if a newsroom is muscle, then the ad revenues are a newspaper’s skeleton, and we’re dreadfully short on Vitamin C. News startups (like TPM media) are growing because their “muscle” is proportional to their “skeleton.”

So what should a newsroom do? Maybe they should jettison the extra muscle. A strong but unemployed editorial department does no one any good, and the staff necessary to produce and distribute the paper product are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

But someone has to go first. In Seattle—actually, in the US—the Seattle PI is the first large metro daily to drop 79% of their workforce and forge ahead as an online-only newsbrand.

Once that starts working, we might see more dailies abandoning their legacy products.