At the web conference next09 in Hamburg I interviewed Jeff Jarvis about the new opportunities for media in the digital age and the link economy in the US and in Germany. (switch to the German version)
Your current book has the title „What would Google do“? – meant to be read as a piece of advice for classic media to think and act like Google. Shouldn’t the advice for media companies rather be: What can’t Google do? What can the media do better than Google?
That’s interesting. The answer is yes and no. Yes, to the extent that there are other opportunities, but no to the extent that Google is a platform that we can build on it without having to build a platform ourselves. Google presents opportunity to build new companies, find customers and be found by those customers and use technology. That’s the web 2.0 secret. We can start new companies, new ventures with very little investment. And now to your second point: you’re absolutely right: We should be looking at the opportunities where Google is just not good or has left a void. The book industry gets mad about Google book search, but the book industry should have set it up themselves. They should have been there with their own book search, discoverable and linkable online. The media industry gets mad about Google having so much revenue in advertising. Well, Google just offered the advertisers a more efficient means of advertising. Media could have done that too. So where is Google not yet King? I think there are a few areas. One is live.
But then again not an established media company but a small start-up called Twitter filled the void…
Exactly, a fast service named Twitter came along. Twitter is not perfect, but it shows the tremendous opportunity in live connections and learning from what people are saying live. And that has just begun. So that’s a huge frontier. Another one is local. And Google is starting there too to serve very local advertisers online. They do that for mapping and for mobile. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt says they will make more money from mobile than from the web. The other opportunity is people. Google organizes all our information, but who is going to help organize us? That’s what Google and Facebook are fighting over, but neither has won yet. There’s also the notion of the deep web, of data that sits in databases all over and making sense of that. So there are new frontiers yet to conquer and we should be looking ahead not back.
Many publishers and newspaper journalists don’t see the virtuous circle in the link economy, as you describe it, but rather claim that it’s a vicious circle: Google is skimming off profits from their content. Do you understand their fears?
Yes, but they don’t understand the link economy. The shift from the content economy towards the link economy is exactly what’s causing this war. It used to be all about content that you own and you tried to sell it many times as you could. That’s what gets torn apart by the internet. All you need now is one copy. It’s the links to that one copy that add value to it. The link economy puts on three imperatives. The first is that you have to open up all your stuff, because you want more links…
…media companies would probably find that imperative easier to understand, if they could better monetize the links they get.
Well, that’s the second imperative. Who get’s the links must find ways to monetize them. And the third imperative is: the link economy demands specialization, not commodity content. So you must stand out and be unique and do something uniquely well. Then you can own that category. Techcrunch is a brilliant blog that owns the web 2.0 category. And they monetize beautifully. But the idea that we can monetize as we did in the past is what’s wrong here.
What’s wrong about it?
Even online we’re still using old ad models based on selling scarcity advertizing. Only so many banners, only so many impressions, only so many eyeballs. Google doesn’t sell any of that. Google sells perfomance. They say, if you succeed, we’ll succeed. The fourth imperative is: Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link economy also creates efficiency. We tend to look at just the revenue line of businesses and try to replicate that to maintain the same size business we had in the past. Well, sorry, you’re in a competitive marketplace now. Far more competitive. So media companies should view Google as a platform to do what they do best. Specialize, don’t try to sell everything to all people. That makes your business much smaller, cheaper and closer to profitability.
You have started a project at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism to determine which new business models for newspapers might work in the age of Google. What do you think, so far, which ones will work?
I think we have learned a few things. A news organization of the future is going to organize news and be smaller and its role is more of a curator and aggregator, and educator. The role of professional journalists is going to change. We held a session on what happens in a city when a paper dies. The outcome was: they could regroup with 35 journalists instead of 300 by going digital only. But those 35 people now work with a network of 3000. We will see a network structure coming forward.
Will this new newsroom efficiency make newspapers more attractive for advertisers?
I think we’re going to see a local level. A new whole new group of advertisers who were never served by newspapers, because newspapers were too big and too ineficient. We’ve got to figure out how to serve them. Serving them will be probably be helping them do well on Google, helping them build customer relationships and more whole new ways. I think ad sales will become more collaborative. One sales office is not going to scale against this huge web populalation. We willl see citizen sales.
What about paid content models? Why are you so skeptical about them?
I’m not against paid content just like I’m not against paper, although I get accused of both. The Wall Street Journal as an online subscription model is an exeption, but that’s a business expense. I think you can make more money by taking advantage of the internet. That’s what the New York Times learned when they took down their paywall. Their traffic, google juice and ad revenue went up. More people discovered them. In his book „Here Comes Everybody“ Clay Shirky argues – and I agree with him – that when the web was created we all got presses. The value of being the only person to own a press shrank to zero. Worse then that, it became a cost burden. So we can’t keep on trying to transplant old business models to a new business world thinking „people have paid before, so they should pay now“. There is no business model built on the word should. The reality is, these days there is no one with the only press out there. Someone is always going to undercut you. And if you’re trying to make your money by trying to control a scarce asset, well, it’s not scarce anymore. Even exclusive news inevitably becomes information and information is a commodity. Once it’s known, there’s no controlling information. Someone people say, but people buy songs on iTunes. Yes, because Billy Joel sings, but if I sang his song you wouldn’t pay for that.
What about Spot.Us in San Francisco? A paid content model in which journalists start to investigate a story when it has financed through donations.
David Cohn is magnificent. Spot.Us is a way for the public to help support journalism. But it will not take over the role of the newspaper.
On which scale will such a model work best? Local, hyperlocal, regional?
On this individidual level hyperlocal and local. But we have the tradition in the US of National Public Radio supported not through taxdollars but through contributions from both foundations and individuals. That doesn’t exist as much in Europe. In the case of contributions other than through tax-funding I’ll decide where my money should go to. I think that’s a very powerful model, especially, because we already have that contribution reflex. If you did an audit of all the journalistic resources in a market and all the output then analyzed what portion of the huge amount of money goes into investigative journalism today the portion would be tiny. I don’t say that as an insult, I just say that it becomes conceivable to me that public support though indivuals and foundations can probably suppport investigative journalism on a similar level than what it is today. Indeed, I think it could grow, because there are also ways to do it more efficiently.
You’re telling the media, don’t force users to come to your website, offer digital home delivery to users’ networks. Do you have a specific example of how this can work?
We see it a lot today in RSS, in embedable Videos and in Twitter. The latest example is the Guardian with all its content available though its Application Programming Interface (API). National Public Radio has had an API for a while, and to some extent also the New York Times and the BBC. But the question quickly becomes: What’s the business model? The Guardian puts 3 requirements on using its content via API: 1. You have to use their brand. 2. You have to join their ad network, but you can make money there too. 3. You have to refresh the content every 24 hours, because of British libel law. If the Guardian corrected something and the uncorrected version stayed out there in the world with the Guardian helping to put it there then they get into trouble. The point is: They wanted to be out there in the fabric of the web and they used the power of an API to do that. I think it’s a brave beginning.
Do you know a German example of weaving into the fabric of the web? Maybe Burda’s German Glam?
What Glam does is create a network model where they help others succeed with their businesses. Another example is Kai Diekmann at Bild.
You like him, because you talked him into using a Flip camera…
Exactly, I love this story. Kai Diekmann saw the Flip and saw the possibilities. He did not say, “Oh I’ll give this to my staff so my staff can make more video”, but he saw that the could empower the public to make content for Bild. He still has to find the good stuff and not show all the cat videos, but he now has access to content. It’s a way of distributing the effort. The reflex most for most editors in the US would have been: “Oh great, a new way for my staff to make more content.” The staff’s reflex then would have been to complain.
Should newspapers collaborate with bloggers, maybe create a network of blogs?
Yes. I’ve been trying to push that idea in Germany many times, but I get nowhere. The opportunity in Germany is to nurture that new market of blogging. The problem with blogs in Germany is: there aren’t enough to create a network. The response to that should be: how do we encourage people to create them because it’s going to be good for them and good for us. And indeed, when you have a business relation with these people it gives you a quality relationship. You can say, “your blog is crap, I’m not selling ads for this one, your blog is better, we shall sell ads for you.” That’s a sane and sensible way to act in this digital world. Burda gets collaboration through Glam and its Scienceblog investments and of course also through Sevenload in videos. The Bild model, where citizen reports send pictures and video is more the old model „give us content“. The new model is users saying: help me on the outside do my own thing. That’s a network. I think, there’s a huge opportunity there. Media companies should do it. Somebody’s going to do it, and it might not even be a media company.
Is collaborative journalism for everyone? I can’t imagine papers like the Wall Street Journal benefiting much from collaborative journalism unless they want to cut down on their vast team of specialized reporters and editors?
It’s not for everyone and not for every story. But it does work in the financial sector. The Guardian recently put together a chart of all the major financial purchases. They didn’t have the time or the means to sit down and go through all the files. They asked their readers, and the readers collaboratively filled the feature for them. The Wikipedia “one percent rule” comes to bear here. Only one percent of all users contribute to Wikipedia. We need to see new possibilities and envision new kinds of stories we never could have made before without working collaboratively. My classic example that of a radio station in New York that asked people to go out and find out the price of milk, beer and lettuce in stores so that in the end they could compare which neighborhoods were getting gouged in prices. In 24 hours 800 people did that. No one reporter could have done that. That yielded a new kind of reporting. Some kinds of investigative stories about scandals are always going to be reported as they always have been. But there are new kinds of watchdog stories which are powerful by working collaboratively.
You are a 54 year old media veteran embracing all kinds of new media technology. What do you tell younger journalists who are reluctant to try all these new tools and approaches like blogging, live video-blogging, twittering, using iPhone apps for news distribution and so on?
If I can do it, they can do it. It ‘s easier than it looks. That’s the point: it’s easy. I argue that every journalist in every newsroom organisation should be trained in all the tools. They will then understand why the world is using them. And the reason is: because it’s easy. These tools will become less myterious to them. That’s the best service we can do to journalists. I teach these tools to my fellow journalism faculty members at CUNY and it’s empowering because they then understand why and how the world is changing. A curious journalist should know that. There is absolutely no skill needed to pick up a flip camera and hit the red button and make video.
Should every journalist be a jack-of-all-trades with all these tools?
No. But they should have at their ready all the tools they need to tell their stories in the best way so that if they happen to witness a truly funny or interesting moment like Jarvis fell off the stage they can record and live-blog it. That’s not a whole video story but it might be a ten second moving talking picture. It’s a question of being prepared to be able to use the tools. Its the same as when computers came into writing. 1974, when I was a young writer, that changed the way I wrote.
Maybe they are more curious in the US. In Germany lots of journalists are sceptical of new technology. They think new technogy will devalue the skills they already have.
That’s an old controled way of thinking and I can’t imagine how anyone can think not learning things is going to make you more powerful. On its face that is ridiculous. Journalists have to learn new things and by definition have be curious about them. Part of the problem though is that we in the new media world became our own priesthood and tried to make things look complicated. We’ve got to open up our own orthodoxy and open up our tools and be generous about sharing.
If you enjoyed this post you might be interested in this one (in English): Global Media Forum: 10 Strategies for Social Media Journalism
photos: nextconference, elmine, next09 Flickr photostream