The Economist.com, the Internet Manifesto and the Fate of Online Publishing

by K. V. Rao

 

It’s been quite a week for the world of online publishing.

 

First, MediaWeek reported that the Economist was moving to a paid model for its news content. The publisher, who until now charged only for online content that was more than a year old, refuted the assertion stating, “It’s something that we are considering but nothing has been decided yet.” However, with advertising revenues growing 29% year over year, the Economist.com is certainly bucking the trend of fellow publishers.

 

Then Wednesday, a group of German bloggers stirred up quite a frenzy when they launched their Internet Manifesto – a list of seventeen declarations of how journalism works today. The manifesto, which TechCrunch’s Markus Goebel describes as “an onslaught on old-school media and a reaction to German publishing heavyweights who feel ‘sneakingly expropriated’ by the Internet”, certainly makes interesting claims.

 

At Zuora, we’re not short on opinions, especially when it comes to new and interesting revenue models, and the monetization of online assets. Here’s a brief recap of our reaction to just a few of the declarations:

 

#1: The Internet is different.

 

The media must adapt their work methods to today’s technological reality instead of ignoring or challenging it.

 

We at Zuora couldn’t agree more. The Internet is making it faster and easier to publish content, and publishers who embrace technology will thrive in the long run, engaging readers in a dialogue rather than shouting at them. However, old world media companies should retain what was good about print journalism (ethics, fact checking, impartiality, etc.) and embrace what’s good about the new – collaboration, user-generated content and forums, speed to market, etc.

 

#2: The Internet is a pocket-sized media empire.

 

The web rearranges existing media structures by transcending their former boundaries and oligopolies. The publication and dissemination of media contents are no longer tied to heavy investments…All that remains is the journalistic quality through which journalism distinguishes itself from mere publication.

 

The good news for the consumer is that barriers to entry, which made it extremely difficult for individuals and start-ups to get into the news business, no longer exist. However, existing publishers shouldn’t be excluded from the party simply because of their historical dominance. The “internet elite” don’t get to decide who wins this competition. In the end, the consumer will determine whose content is worthy of their attention and therefore their dollars/eyeballs.

 

#4: The freedom of the Internet is inviolable.

 

The Internet’s open architecture …may not be modified for the sake of protecting the special commercial or political interests often hidden behind the pretense of public interest. Regardless of how it is done, blocking access to the Internet endangers the free flow of information and corrupts our fundamental right to a self-determined level of information.

 

We agree with this with the qualification that this freedom includes the right to charge a fair price for value delivered. Call me a capitalist, but it seems to me that if people are willing to pay for something – whether that be a physical product or an online service – then the ‘producer’ should be entitled to sell it to them, assuming that said product or service doesn’t pose a danger to society as a whole. This should hold true for both traditional media companies and upstart bloggers.

 

#8: Links reward, citations adorn.

 

Search engines and aggregators … boost the findability of outstanding content over a long-term basis…. References through links and citations—especially including those made without any consent or even remuneration of the originator—make the very culture of networked social discourse possible in the first place. They are by all means worthy of protection.

 

I have no issue with search engines indexing content (whether that be merely an abstract of an article or content in its entirety), according to the wishes of the publisher. If I follow their logic, wouldn’t all digital music be available online and without restriction? At what point does the public interest give way to the artist’s right to earn a living?

 

#12: Tradition is not a business model

 

Money can be made on the Internet with journalistic content….business models have to be adapted to the structure of the new.

 

We definitely agree that there is money to be made in the online publishing industry, and that a number of new business models will emerge, chief among them, subscriptions. Last month we blogged about how Journalism Online has signed up publishers representing more than 500 newspapers and magazines to their affiliate program with the aim of charging for online content. The question is, with bloggers insisting that content be free, how will large publishers compete? Will they successfully make the transition to paid content or will this be the death knell of the media industry? Only time will tell.

Recommended for you

Strategic Insights from Zuora’s Subscribed Institute Executive Breakfast in London
How to create personalized subscriptions using Zephr
Unlocking the Power of First-Party Data: Agility in a Changing Digital World