Business Model for News

Rupert Murdoch has created a stir with his intent to charge for content. Dave Earley wrote a great piece at Earley Edition explaining how it won’t save news media’s business model.

What is the core business of news media? They are not in the business of “reporting the news”. News media’s business is to aggregate an audience to deliver to advertisers. That is why celebrity tabloids sell – the perceived quality of the “product” only affects the demographics and size of the audience. But in reality the audience is the “product”, journalists and producers are the manufacturing team. The sales team are supposed to be the rain makers. But news media believes their own manufacturing-oriented PR that their business is “the news”.

If news media companies are to thrive under a pay-for-content business model they must now do two new things well for sustainable competitive advantage. Firstly they must deliver compelling content, now mixed with rights management and security that does not interfere with the reader experience. Secondly they must become expert subscription marketers – better than Time Life or Readers Digest. Because the internet is littered with the corpses of companies who believed “if you build it, they will come”. If your business depends on paid subscription you had better become outstanding at the skills to deliver subscriptions. Dave Earley said

It is worrying that users will now be made to pay for news simply because marketing departments are unable to make online advertising work.

Sadly this is typical of sales and marketing reactions in a mature market, it always looks easier to chase the next big thing rather than get great at your core business. If their marketing departments can’t sell online advertising (B2B) how are they going to develop the skill to convince people (B2C) to pay for something they’ve previously got for free? I wouldn’t take that bet.

News media is like the buggy whip manufacturers complaining their markets are shrinking because cars have replaced horse-drawn carriages. Nobody promised newspapers a perpetual license to make money. Evolve or die.  Get good at your real, core business.

Rupert, baby, deliver an audience to your customers.