Micropayments: Holy grail or delusion?

No matter how many times people like Clay Shirky or Mike Masnick try to pop the bubble of faith around micropayments as a cure for what ails the newspaper industry (or even the media industry as a whole), another believer emerges to argue that a secure and extensible micropayment system is a big part of the answer. The latest to make an impassioned plea is Jeff Reifman, the co-founder of NewsCloud, a “community-driven news aggregator” funded by the Knight Foundation.

In a recent blog post, Reifman outlines why he believes that micropayments can solve the newspaper industry’s problems. His post is a response to one by Steve Outing at Editor & Publisher, which carried the somewhat argumentative title “Your News Content Is Worth Zero To Digital Consumers,” and argued that charging people for news isn’t going to work unless that news is highly targeted to a specific niche. (Google CEO Eric Schmidt made a similar point recently about why The Wall Street Journal has been able to charge, and Paul Graham echoes that point as well.)

If you want to go back through some of the reams of text that have been written about micropayments for news, Clay’s essay from 2003 is a good place to start — especially since it lists the half-dozen or so attempts to create such a system that failed miserably. (Are you listening, Steve Brill?) There’s also a good roundup at the Freakonomics blog from awhile back that is well worth reading.

Reifman defends his approach by pointing to several successful models of payment for services, including iTunes, text messaging, TiVo, and broadband Internet. The first thing that leaped out at me is that three of those four things — iTunes, text messaging and broadband Internet — are a result of something approaching a monopoly (or an oligopoly or cartel, in the case of text messaging and broadband Internet). Apple can charge for music because it controls access to the songs from all the major record labels. Phone companies and cable companies can charge usurious rates for text messaging and Internet because they have little or no real competition. How does any of that apply to newspapers?

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

TEDx Toronto: New Media vs. Old Media

I was honoured recently by being asked to be one of the featured presenters at the first TEDx Toronto, a kind of mini-version of the famous TED conference that took place in at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto on September 10th (which also happened to be my birthday). The title of my presentation was “Five Ways New Media Can Save Old Media,” and it was quite well received as far as I could tell. So I thought I would post the slides here – they are embedded if you are reading this via RSS – and the transcript. The TEDx organizers said that there would be video of all the talks available, so I will post that as well when it arrives.

Good afternoon, and thanks for joining me for this part of TEDx Toronto. I’m honoured to be included in this event with so many great speakers and thinkers. The title of this presentation is Five Ways New Media Will Save Old Media. If we look at that title, we can see there are three implicit assumptions: 1) old media needs to be saved; 2) old media can be saved; and 3) old media should be saved.

Let’s take those one at a time: does old media need to be saved? Revenues are dropping at many media entities, not just newspapers; circulation is stagnant at best, and some media outlets have already gone bankrupt or closed for good, or gone online-only. Let’s call that assumption “proven,” just for the sake of argument.

Can old media be saved? I believe that it can — although I have no proof of that. If I had proof that old media could be saved, I would be sitting on a beach somewhere. I think it’s also important to think about what we mean by using the word “saved.” Do we mean restoring traditional media to the good old days of 25-per-cent returns and rising readership? I don’t think that’s likely to happen.

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Newspapers get the comments they deserve

Since I became the first “communities editor” for The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto almost a year ago, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what makes for a good community – a healthy community – and what makes for a bad one. I’ve looked at every newspaper I can think of and tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve looked at non-media communities like Metafilter and Slashdot and even (so help me) 4chan. I’ve looked at research into real-world communities and how they evolve, and why some thrive and some die out.

There are all sorts of manifestations of community on news sites – blogs, wikis, etc. – but one of the most fundamental elements of community is reader comments. Some media outlets only allow comments on certain stories; some pre-moderate, while others wait for readers to flag unpleasant comments and then remove them. Some sites do the moderating themselves; others outsource to companies like ICUC in Winnipeg. But everyone sees the value of comments, right? Wrong.

The reality is that – as Alfred Hermida of the University of British Columbia journalism school writes at MediaShift – many newspapers still see comments as some kind of necessary evil: a bone tossed to readers to help drive traffic, but something that produces little else of value. Hermida writes about research presented at the recent Future of Journalism conference in Wales (where he presented his “Twitter as ambient journalism” paper) that said most journalists see comments as containing very little news, and mainly view them as a nuisance.

(please read the rest of this post at the Neiman Journalism Lab)

50 Cent: Piracy Is Part Of The Marketing

Mike Masnick at Techdirt (who got profiled at CNET recently) writes about rapper 50 Cent’s approach to piracy:

Famed rapper 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) was apparently on CNBC recently talking about his “business acumen.” I have to admit that having three different people all trying to interview him at once is rather annoying — as they almost never let him complete a thought. However, when they ask him about piracy, and whether or not it makes him angry (around 2 minutes), he responds that: he sees it as a part of the marketing of a musician, because “the people who didn’t purchase the material, they end up at the concert.” He says that people can fall in love with the music either way, and then they’ll go to concerts. He notes that you can’t stop piracy either way, so why try to fight it? He also talks about other business opportunities for musicians.

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