I love to be inspired by change, even the potential for change, and this is why the fall is tied with spring for my favourite season. Watching the world around me decay, knowing it will rise again, reminds me how important it is for the old to make way for the new.
This is why I rarely lament the decline of the journalism business, or any content-related industry, for that matter. Everywhere I look I see phoenixes ready to rise from the ashes.
For example, two of my favourite media outlets, both creations of internet culture, and also relatively new, are stumbling towards rather successful business models for online journalism. I say "stumbling" only because neither are waiting for permission or the perfect formula. They're embracing the embedded ethos of the online environment which is to "just do it."
The first example I want to share is Techdirt, which is produced by Mike Masnick and his company Floor64, with the help of a whole motley crew of people, many of whom are readers who have stepped up to join the scene.
Mike describes his wonderful efforts as an "accidental success story," yet this underplays his intellect and hustle, while also emphasizing the role that improvisation plays in any new media business.
Techdirt writes about stories and shares analysis that the traditional world of technology journalism steers clear of. As a result, they get into some of the arguments and concepts that are otherwise neglected, and therefore reach conclusions and comprehension of the internet and its impact in ways that few others do.
From a community development perspective this has played a powerful role in attracting an audience that is intelligent, critical, loyal, generous, and committed to the project. I kind of suspect that one of Mike's motivations all along is to just explore and discuss interesting ideas in an interactive and open manner. Isn't that why most people start publishing online?
However to take the next step up, to really have an impact on our world and the industries we engage, you need to be both sustainable, and a professional, i.e. get paid. Yet how do you do this when both the culture and the economy of the internet is summed up by the word "free"?
A good place to start is by analyzing the business model of free, which is precisely what Techdirt has done, engaging in an ongoing comparative analysis of how free impacts all sorts of industries and economies. Earlier this year I traveled to California to attend a Techdirt related event called "The Free Summit" and was readily impressed by the thinking and talking in the room.
Since then Mike and his crew have come up with an innovative (yet surprisingly simple) approach to generating revenue, which so far has exceeded Techdirt's expectations.
The formula they have derived from their research is CwF+RtB=$$$ and this stands for: Connect with Fans (CwF) and give them a Reason to Buy (RtB). Think of it as a pay-what-you-can setup in which the idea is to give people as many (voluntary) opportunities as possible for them to pay, kind of like traditional audience-supported media, but without the incessant nagging.
If you scroll down the list of items and services on offer you'll see an eclectic mix of stuff, priced with a broad range so as to be accessible to anyone. Some are silly, and others are symbolic, yet what makes it successful is the way in which it makes reader support explicit, as well as innovative when it comes to valuing the community.
For example, a Techdirt/Floor64 spin off is the Insight Community, which provides an opportunity for individual Techdirt readers to get paid to work together on particular problems faced by companies/clients, who are also quite likely part of the site's readership. It demonstrates the power of the convener in bringing together a great group of people to help each other solve their business problems and get paid in the process.
The results of Techdirt's CwF+RtB experiment are encouraging, indicating definite potential in this business model. In a bit more than a month they were able to generate approximately $37,000 which is impressive for a "blog", and really just a start as the concept and campaign were novel. Expect Mike et all to expand this concept and refine the ways in which it can be applied.
Which brings me to a second favourite site of mine which is also emerging as a great example of how journalism is flourishing online.
Mondoville was recently launched here in Toronto by Marc Weisblott and Geo Perdis, two new media types who are as eager as any to find a new business model for online journalism. As with any great site with gumption, they're not waiting for anyone's blessing or permission but are just barreling ahead, figuring it out as they go along.
Like Techdirt, Mondoville has become part of my daily media munching, as it provides an eclectic mix of aggregation, analysis, rumour, event coverage, and for lack of a better phrase, what I'll call the "construction of contextual tweet-based narratives". As well, Mondoville likes to play with the integration of various social media tools and platforms, not so much in a typical way, but rather experimenting with their emergent potential.
Recently, as a sign of their growing success, Mondoville was criticized by @tamera for not having enough snark. I later reiterated this charge upon reading yesterday's article on the current CRTC hearings, as I wanted to see the dinosaurs get their due. Which is really less of a criticism, and more the voice of a passionate reader who wants the writer to go even further.
In fact, after a few more minutes of reflection, I realized I'd be quite happy to pay for such snark, pledging my funds via twitter: "@geoperdis $50 to go after the gerontocracy another $50 for the kleptocracy and a final $50 to ridicule this hypocrisy with raunch profanity."
Yet while I was being playful, I was also quite serious. Put a paypal button on the bottom of posts and the more the writing entertains and satisfies my intellectual need to see multiple sides to a story, the more reasons I'll find as a reader to support these kinds of emerging sites.
Which is not to say that I envision a model of journalism in which each article solicits individual payments after the fact, but rather I do see a model in which you give your readers ample opportunity to contribute, both financially, and editorially. Allow them to invest in your venture and as stakeholders they will stick around for the long haul, ensuring you have what you need to succeed.