The media circus

A coalition of Danish media companies are out with an open letter trying to yet again put pressure on Danish parliament to regulate Big Tech.

The rationale seems to be that the timing couldn’t be better; the role of Big Tech – especially social media – in recent US events these last few weeks have highlighted that we do indeed have a problem, we need to pay attention to and figure out to do with.

But does it really relate to Danish media subsidy policy? Now that’s a different discussion. So let’s try to break that discussion down a bit.

The first argument, media companies make, is that tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter offers publicity to all kinds of fringe arguments. While that is undoubtedly true, let’s not forget that quite a lot of the content that gets shared actually come from media who have made it part of their core strategy to cater to the clickbait SoMe-mob, if we can call it that.

Media companies are not entirely without a responsibility of their own here, IMHO. It would be nice of them to at least own up to some of it.

Now, a lot of the questionable content comes from alternative news sources whose whole business model is built around creating a stir from fake news and draw attention to themselves. Trying to force Big Tech to compensate legacy media for content will (a) not deter these one bit and (b) probably also mean these alternative sources would have to be compensated.

Unless of course you think, legislation should be skewed towards catering for very special interests. But I digress.

You could in fact argue that some of the arguments being put forward by legacy media sounds an awful lot like how a oligopoly would find it useful to try and divide and conquer the market between them to suit their own purposes however noble or not those might seem to be.

As a follow-up from that let’s just for a second remember that what the media companies are essentially complaining about – near monopoly power with a couple of industry players – is what they essentially had themselves with their printing presses back in the good ol’ pre-internet days.

Those were the days.

So let’s just be clear what this is really about then:

It is about trying to ensure that more subsidies goes from someone with the ability to make money (or print their own, aka the government) to someone with a dwindling ability to make money themselves.

The song is an old one: Big Tech has disrupted the advertising market, and unless someone or something compensates us for the loss we have accrued due to the changing times, new technologies, more efficient opportunities for advertisers etcetera, we could be going away soon. So please: Send more money.

The problem is real. No doubt about it. Many annual reports no matter which company in which market will tell you the same.

But the question is whether it’s the right time to use an attempt at sedition in the US to once again beat the old, limp pony of a failed business model that should be fully compensated for by everyone else but the ones who have so far struggled to find a viable alternative?

Personally I would prefer if the energy was spent entirely (and yes, I know a lot of energy is going into this space) of finding a way to once again be the best option for advertisers, when they need to market their products and services.

Only real product and value innovation can help bring about that change.

Having said that I fully assume media companies to continue their efforts to turn back time to when they were in the very position they now complain Big Tech is in.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The new media mixtape

As a former insider turned outsider it continues to be interesting to follow the innovative developments within the media space.

Over a short period of years we have gone from monoliths over new entrants with ambitions to become digital monoliths to individual talents and a plethora of ambitious (monoliths-in-spe?) platforms aggressively hawking their capabilities towards said individual talents.

Name me just one other industry, where the atomization of the business model and its opportunities have been more distributed among those who have the talent to take it on and make something out of it?

Thought not.

The individualization of media is an interesting concept. You don’t subscribe to the omnibus model anymore. You subscribe to a variety of subjects and voices and you’re the editor-in-chief who pieces your own worldview together, independent of media channel(s) and content type(s).

It’s all a big mixtape. But it’s your mixtape.

On the flip side it of course puts into question what happens with the leading common narrative and the common agenda – something we can all relate to and discuss and – by extension – subject our opinions on, ultimately at the ballot box (if we’re so fortunate to live in a society where that is a real and unrestricted civil right for us).

Two points on that:

First of all, media monoliths have by and large done a less than stellar job at guarding that unique role and brought into serious question why it should continue to be theirs to steward.

Second, it is always infinitely better that the opportunities for talent and voices are out there – and more abundantly so than ever – than to have everything on relatively few hands. Like water all the news that remain fit to print will find a way.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Cakes, laptops…and news

Despite every intention otherwise, I keep returning to commenting on the industry, where I got my education and served a significant part of my career:

The media industry.

I just can’t escape the fact that I get almost emotional every time someone within the industry makes an argument that only serves to prolong the suicidal pain, the industry is putting on itself by not squarely facing up to the real market realities they exist within.

Latest example? Paywalls. Or rather; the customers lack of love for them.

Whenever a new survey comes out indicating that customers don’t want articles behind paywalls, you will hear a version of this argument from the industry:

“Oh, but this and this industry also has expectations that you pay for what they are offering”.

I have seen a lot of analogies for this with laptop-resellers and bakeries being just the latest. So let’s latch onto those and just briefly examine why this analogy is both flawed and – ultimately – downright stupid:

No matter if you went into a computerstore or bakery back in the 80’s or even today, there has always been a constant: The merchandise was sitting on the shelves with a nice price tag onto them, and the ONLY way you could get to walk out of the store with something in your hands was by forking up the cash to pay the price on the tag (or haggle yourself to a slight discount, but that’s beside the point here).

How about in the media industry?

Through 20 years the media industry have said to people coming to their ‘store’, aka news websites: “Look, everything here is free. Just feast yourself to your own delight.”

That advertisers paid for the privilege of offering the product to customers for free was a point lost on the consumers. To them it was just great that they could get something without paying directly. Who doesn’t like that idea?

Fast forward to today. Media entities are now busy putting (much needed and long overdue) paywalls up.

Now, naturally when you start demanding something from your customers in the way of payment rather than just offering it for free, a chunk of your customers will object to it. After all the feeling is that you’re talking something away from them.

But trying to reason that argument by comparing it to other industries, where you ALWAYS had to pay out of pocket is just misplaced. It’s like comparing apples to cheese.

And where it IMHO gets downright stupid is that as long as media people insist on blaming the customers that they just won’t all accept the change, the more time it will take for these same media people to focus on the things they need to do from their end to get out of the misery they’re in:

Developing the product into something customers find it natural to pay for, because it has that value to them.

As hard as it is in reality, as basic straightforward solution it is.

It is the only way this industry will ever be able to move out of this quagmire they’re in. And if blatantly stating when they are misusing their time on worthless arguments can help push things in the right direction that alone is a reason to keep on bringing it up and commenting on it.

Only trouble with that is that I am not confident they will ever really understand, let alone accept, it. Which probably also means that this won’t be the last time I feel the strong urge to comment on it…

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Lies are free

Nathan Robinson from ‘Current Affairs’ has an excellent opinion piece out, where he argues that the big problem with paywalls is that while you’re keeping quality knowledge and information behind bars, fake news remains in the open and free.

Wow! Think about it for a second; as traditional publishers of information, content and news are trying to get to gribs with a new digital subscription model – because the world – needs more quality information (and it truly does), they run the huge risk of alienating people and sending them in the arms of fringe, fake media instead.

The problem is only magnified in countries, where (1) people have little tradition for spending the time actually analyzing what they see, read and hear to judge it’s quality and/or (2) are ill-equipped to do so in the first place through the sheer lack of a proper education.

The good question is: What do we do, if we both want to preserve and expand the quality of information while at the same time not shooting ourselves in the foot?

Again the answer is: The business model.

While it is super great that media can get some people to pay for content, we need to make sure that we also have a valid and great proposition for those who won’t or can’t pay directly.

Advertising has been tried and has failed, so what’s left?

Maybe it’s time to think in new ways of being of service for people in a way that more people WILL actually pay for and then throw in access to all the quality stuff as an add-on or bonus, if you will.

Will it be enough to effectively combat fake news that will always remain free and alluring for people? Maybe not. But what is pretty clear by now is that something new needs to happen.

And yes, I know a lot of publishers will say it’s not their job, and they have a different role.

But this is one of those instances, where they need to realize that if they want to keep a free, open and democratic society, they need to play a bigger part in trying to uphold it.

A part that does not only get the elite onboard but gets the masses engaged in the right way and leave the sea, fake news and extremists are fishing in with far, far less fish.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Go for subscription, Twitter

Twitter is reportedly exploring adding a subscription model to their offering.

Good for them!

However, they should go full throttle and turn Twitter into a full blown subscription product with no free tier.

Why?

First of all, my bet is that there is a great willingness to pay from those who see Twitter as a strong platform to communicate, get the message out there and be heard by those who needs to hear and get the insights. There are plenty of other niche examples of this. This goes for politicians, business executives, investors, NGOs of various sorts and media people.

Speaking of those, I think they would actually prefer for a lot of Twitter ‘users’ NOT to be present any more on the platform, which gives me reason number 2 why turning Twitter into a full blown subscription platform is a no-brainer.

Because after all; when was the last time when you heard someone truly relish a Twitter debate full of trolls?

I thought so.

If a lot of of the trolls and bots fell off a cliff and off the Twitter platform, when it turned full subscription, would that be a loss? Eeh, no.

So go, go, GO!, Jack Dorsey! Make it happen.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Insight is value

People inside and outside the media industry are starting to take notice of the value of quality content; content that people are actually willing to pay for.

Hooray! Better late than never, I guess. And yes, this goes out to you late bloomers in the media industry, who are finally getting around to the idea of getting your income – your livelihood – from other sources than an advertising market going towards a CPM of 0.

Yes, zero!

Anyways, it’s great that the focus is now on how to create content people are willing to pay for. But at the same time, I think it’s valid to mark a point of concern:

I see a lot – especially media people – looking towards popularity numbers to decide, which content is worth paying for, ie looking at page views and different engagement metrics to determine what they need more of in terms of increasing their ability to drive payment direct from users.

I think this concept is flawed. And let me back it up with a couple of examples:

I pay a monthly subscription to Stratechery by Ben Thompson and have done so for years. I pay a monthly subscription to Exponential View by Azeem Azhar. And the only magazine in print, I subscribe to is the Danish magazine on current political affairs, Raeson.

What do all these have in common for me as a paying user:

(1) I can never guess what they are going to put out based on prior history, and it’s perfectly fine, because…

(2) I subscribe for the insights and outcome. Nothing else. And I am willing to pay for that – and continue to do so.

The last point is important. I strongly – STRONGLY – believe that the key to a great content business – streaming services apart which is a totally different ballgame – is knowledge and insight. That you actually know and have a deep, DEEP expertise in whatever it is, you’re writing or even podcasting about.

And this is where the problem risks returning for the regular newsroom. Because in the effort of doing more with less, be fast and always be breaking, newsrooms have lost a lot of that knowledge and insight that was worth something.

At the same time the internet has enabled the sources to have their own voices and charge for that. They have effectively cut out the middle man.

Which is why – despite promising numbers for digital subscriptions – legacy media will find it just as hard to build a sustainable digital subscription business with what they have got than it was with advertising.

Of course I hope, I will be proven wrong.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Willingness to pay…for what?

A new study from the Reuters Institute at Oxford University has found that there seems to be a co-relation between users with media subscriptions like Netflix and Spotify and the willingness to pay for online news.

Naturally, legacy media executives are already starting to misinterpret the findings to fit into their own worldview.

A willingness to pay is not a blanket willingness to pay. Willingness to pay is directly associated with value.

And there is just a huge difference between paying a subscription for an evergreen back catalogue of music or movies and then paying for clickbait that rots in less than 30 seconds after publishing.

On the other hand with an established willingness to pay, there is room to ask oneself in the news industry:

“Ok, how can we take a page out of the playbook from Netflix, Spotify and/or others and apply that in our context?”

What you will get from such an exercise is an imminent need to rethink the product to make it more based on perceived customer value.

And – importantly – stop trying to force the public to pay for you being able to maintain a model that is if not completely dead then terminal.

That takes a huge mind shift internally in the media organizations. A mind shift they have so far proven unwilling and thus unable to make.

It has nothing – nothing – to do with willingness to pay.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Media should take some cues from MedTech

The other day I was asked by Lars K. Jensen to contribute 3 tips on digital development as it relates to media to his weekly newsletter, ‘Digital Ugerevy’.

Naturally, I obliged and delivered as I try to do every time a good friend of mine asks for a piece of advice or some input. And I consider Lars to be a fellow crusader through many years in trying to breathe some new life into a super challenged industry. So I was happy and eager to help

But it also got me thinking about how different the media industry is from what I am doing today. And why it made a ton of sense to leave it for someone like me.

While there are many great things to say about the media industry, it is super hard to challenge and affect. Not because people in it have figured things out, but because they think they have figured it out – and are thus very resistant to real change.

Why? Because the media industry is an industry that puts too much weight on the ego and – more importantly – ego-driven decisions.

I guess it comes with the inherent opportunities for public exposure it offers those of its tribe that puts themselves forward and out there. It’s human, I know, but still…

In the media industry there is no real price for trying to solve a problem as seen from the end user or reader. You will likely die trying instead. Because media people just know better; they are always the smartest people in the room – or so they think.

Contrast that with MedTech which is where I am currently busy trying to build a new startup ground up:

Here there is every price for trying to solve a problem for someone who is experiencing pain, agony or whatever it might be that ails them.

Here there are no-one being smarter about how to solve problems, because those trying to do it are most often deeply invested into research where they actually value figuring things out and secure the validity of what they try to bring to market before they do it. Everything else is a ‘No go’.

Here there are no-one winning an argument with “…but we usually do it this way”, because it is essentially the same thing as saying that the underlying problem will persist, and what we’re trying to do is inherently futile – which again would lead research for better solutions absolutely nowhere.

Here there is preciously little gloating. There are few if any waiting and hoping for others to fail as we’re all on the same mission to try and improve things.

Here it truly matters what you do. It is not a game.

Here there are visions of what might be if we succeed instead of longing for the past.

And I could go on.

Honestly: Is there any reason not to say “So long, media” and refocus your energy from something futile to something deeply meaningful?

I think not.

But I am still glad to try to help out and kick the can when great people such as Lars comes calling.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)