I noticed a conversation going on – in my Facebook feed about changing the copyright laws to permit newspapers to keep their content ‘exclusive’ for 24 hours. I’m amazed by the sheer audacity of that idea and it turned out that someone I was just introduced to – Connie Schultz – had come out in favor of this idea.
So since I’m moving to Cleveland and these are going to become my issues, I thought I’d weigh in on an alternative approach to helping out the Plain Dealer. After all it’s not the copyright laws that are broken, but the newspaper business model. In fact I could argue (and others have) that copyright is broken for a number of OTHER reasons, but I won’t go into that now.
What I do want to do is try and come up with some creative ways that the Plain Dealer can achieve profitability and sustainability in these crazy times. Followers of this blog may recall me doing this for MySpace and I’ve also pitched similar ideas to the NYTimes and the BBC.
So here goes……….
All brands need to have their own platform. They don’t want to be subservient to Facebook, MySpace, Google, Yahoo or Microsoft. They want to ‘own’ their own social graph, have direct relationships with their customers and engage with them – both in cyberspace as well as meatspace. And this is where newspapers can do a much better job – than say ‘a search engine’ company or social network.
To become ‘a platform’ newspapers have to stop thinking that the 4th estate gets special treatment. This is business and they have to stop whining immediately. No special treatment, no changing of the copyright laws in your favor, no special anything. If you wish to invest in investigative journalism (as the Plain Dealer did recently – exposing a huge scandal in the County Commissioner’s office) then it’s up to YOU to come up with a business model that’s sustainable and which can support your various endeavors, overhead and infrastructure.
To become your own platform means that you’ll offer a full-fleged portal 2.0. Now I’m not talking about selling smiley faces, t-shirts or travel vouchers, but a new kind of ‘digital lifestyle aggregation’ dashboard which would combine:
- social networking, media sharing, blogging, commenting, rating, etc.
- UGC (user generated content) and media channels
- widgets, Facebook apps and support for the Open Stack
- on-the-ground promos, contests, volunteerism and job training – tied into on-line content projects
- software infrastructure – that other software developers can use.
I’ll start with the last point. Open APIs (application programming interfaces) allow other software develoeprs ot build on services, content and people that YOU the Plain Dealer have on your servers. Instead of trying to lock-in your customer base, you gladly offer it as a platform for others to build on. This is what Facebook does, what Google helps out and what Microsoft wishes developers would do more of – with their APIs.
This is the hottest area of software development and I need to only point to the NY Times and the Guardian (in the U.K.) as examples of how newspapers are making teh transition over to becoming their own platforms.
So why can’t the plain Dealer become a platform? You could become world class experts on the history of R&R and classical music, on cardio issues, on burning rivers and the Underground railroad. There is so much that Cleveland has to offer the world, why limit yourselves to just NEO?
And what I’m really talking about here is moving beyond just advertising revenues. The Plain Dealer’s platform could offer a premium service with real bite – with real value added services and content that people would pay for.
I also think that the Plain Dealer has to become a full fledged media company and either merge with a local TV station or go independent and roll out full fledged IPTV – “create your own show” tools for ALL your constituents. This is where the on-line media world if going and why shouldn’t the Plain Dealer be a leader?
The Plain Dealer needs to become an Internet brand – to go beyond what Cleveland.com is and embrace the open web.
I could go on forever – but the point is that it’s NOT about changing the copyright laws and asking for special treatment. If the Plain Dealer can’t sustain itself, it’ll go the same route as the auto industry, the housing market and oh yah – the world of investment banking. Nobody is immune and the 4th estate has been replaced by the blogosphere.
The trick is figuring out how to justify the on-going costs of excellent investigative work by reporters like Mark Puente. And Congrats Mark – on those series of stories – they rocked!