As ever these days there is much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing to be had as to which way next for the business models for news. Down the nearest pan, is all too-often the general conclusion.
Mr Shirky was at it the other day…
Given that this was the man who launched a 1,000 hopes and dreams on my 40th birthday some three, long, long years ago, I still ponder long and hard about what he has to say… even if we have long gone our seperate ways in certain areas…
But these three lines chimed.
‘The problem for media professionals is that the industry still holds the perception that everyone sees publishing in the same way, he explained.
‘But, he said, citing the example of Flickr, material may be ‘in public but [it's] not for the public. The cost of putting something out in public has fallen so low.’
‘“This is a reversal of the usual pattern,” he said. ‘Gather and share has been the usual pattern [of publishing] since time immemorial’, but now grouping comes first.’
And that last thought was fascinating. ‘But now grouping comes first…’
There’s a bit of that going on, too, in Jeff Jarvis’ post off the back of WWGD…
As he pondered the thinking of ex-AT&T guru Tom Evslin, I was merely looking at it with my ‘Addiply’ hat on; that as we try and build our own hyper-local ad network, that model is exactly the one we’re trying to roll out through www.thisfrenchlife.com, www.peoplesrepublicofsouthdevon.co.uk, etc, etc…
Make the cost of entry so low – and so easy – that there isn’t room for a competitor to squeeze in beneath you… so, cos it is simply a piece of pre-built code that drops into a box and away Craig goes with his own DIY, self-service advertising ‘tool’, so we can afford to roll it out in beta form at a 10% commission rate.
Value – eventually – will come with scale and sale.
ie, it follows Evslin’s Law….
‘An ad network that extracts the minimum commission it can afford out of ad sales for member sites will grow larger because more sites will join this network than its greedier competitors.
‘Ad networks need a critical mass of audience before they can sell to top-tier advertisers, which pay higher rates. So charging less commission to grow larger can yield more ad sales at better prices…
For Jeff the conversation then ‘gets even more head-scratching’…
‘Evslin argued that if the company that runs the network is too profitable, it will attract competitors that will undercut it and steal market share.
‘“If you’re doing well but running at or close to breakeven,” he explained later on his blog at TomEvslin.com, “you’ve made it impossible for anybody to undercut you without running at a deficit.”
‘To sum up Evslin’s law of networks: Extract the minimum value from the network so it will grow to maximum size and value — enabling its members to charge more — while keeping costs and margins low to block competitors…’
OK. Now let’s apply that thinking to news as a commodity. With a bit of Shirky’s grouping thrown in.
Because to my mind, as the provincial newspaper industry heads for the hills and retreats into the centralised, under-manned hubs of Fort Dunlop and beyond, so they are falling wholly foul of Evslin’s Law.
That they are leaving themselves wide open to being under-cut by the editorial equivalents of Craig’s List.
Clearly our latest baby is www.mylocalwriter.com. With its capacity to drill right down into a postcode ‘beat’ – in much the same way that Adrian Holovaty’s EveryBlock drills down to every street corner in Manhattan.
Only, MLW puts a cherry on top – a hyper-local reporter. Funded by a combination of hyper-local advertising supplied by the self-service element to Addiply and hyper-targetted central and regional government advertising.
It may only be to the level of a part-time living; but for a stay-at-home mum it might offer just the kind of flexibility and interest she’s looking for…
Now go back to Evslin’s Law and can anyone ‘undercut’ an editorial network based on either a postcode or a city block? No. Or not without real difficulty.
What EveryApartment.com? MyLocalStreet.com?
Can someone undercut the costs of running a hyper-local reporter if – via the new tools of our cottage industry trade – all we’re looking at is a kitchen table, a lap-top and a mobile phone? Can anyone find a cheaper set of sickle and scythe..?
And if our ’starter pack’ proposition has little or no bar to entry – that it is, literally, a ‘take it off the shelf, away you go…’ model then the ‘business model’ is simply one of scale leading to sale…
And all the time keeping that ‘bar’ at ground level; that you set up camp in every postcode, in every playground and watch and smile at those manning the distant watchtowers of a Fort Dunlop.
Because this is where Shirky’s ‘grouping’ comes in.
Because, for me, I think the best ‘grouping’ in an editorial target sense comes at the school gates; below that ‘bar’ lies village book clubs a dozen-strong, the parish church with 50-odd regulars, the pub or the Post Office.
That’s where Evslin’s Law in its editorial form would take us; to that hyper-local community that meets and mingles at the school gates every afternoon. In nigh on each and every postcode in this country.
That’s where you draw your line; build your network from… You work from the very bottom up; not hope to find an answer that is imposed from the top down.
You start at the very bottom; with a basic molecule of editorial life and then build our new, journalistic platforms from there.