The Future of Journalism

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The conventional wisdom is that journalism, particularly the newspaper business, is finished, a dead tree just waiting for a stiff breeze to knock it over. No small number of electrons have been expended in trying to figure out the next business model (hint–The Huffington Post ain’t it), but one thing that most people (outside the newspapers themselves) seem to agree on is that charging for content isn’t going to work.

But there are ways to make money around the content. King Kaufman’s latest column at The Future of Journalism blog uses “Jill and Kevin’s Wedding Entrance” video as an example of a way content owners and users can combine to make money.

The video exploded in popularity on YouTube last week. About 10 kajillion people saw it. And heard it. Chris Brown’s song “Forever” is the soundtrack. And it’s all free. Ten kajillion people heard that song and nobody made a dime! No royalties got paid. This is why the music industry is circling the drain!…

Jive was able to put transparent overlay ads on top of the video with click-to-buy links to Amazon and iTunes. Those links helped the song, which was released last year, to bounce into the top 5 of the singles chart at both retailers. The click-through rate on both the wedding video and Brown’s official video for “Forever,” which also got a big boost, has been much higher than the average rate on similar overlays, Google says.

Gee, shouldn’t the label have tried to shut down the video for unauthorized use of its copyrighted material?

Instead, with YouTube’s help, it did the smart thing. It saw a crowd of 10 kajillion people and found a way to make a little money off of it by selling those people something they wanted to buy.

In short, newspapers need to get better at seizing their opportunities instead of focusing on what they think they own. This is the real lesson of the digital age, it seems to me–content providers and consumers have a fundamental disagreement over what ownership means, and until the two start communicating (i.e. until providers accept that consumers feel they own what they buy instead of simply licensing it), the providers are closing off huge potential alternative revenue streams. We’ll see if they learn before they die.

It’s entirely possible that news providers will try to follow the RIAA’s path and start suing bloggers and aggregators for “stealing” their content, rather than working with them. If that happens, I suspect that the end result will be the same–the news providers will win some meaningless lawsuits, ruin the credit ratings of a few people by getting judgments they can never hope to collect on, and people will continue to use their content, just as people still download music and movies.

It’s also possible that news providers will see just how poorly that tactic has worked for the RIAA and will find another way. I’m not betting on it.


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is Senior Poetry Editor at The Rumpus. More from this author →