Most of the changes in online media and journalism have a common theme:
Journalistic entities are becoming product companies, offering products that turn content into marketing. As a side effect, this creates businesses that follow Jack White’s theory of control: vertically integrated, creating content that markets a product that markets the content that markets the product all over again.
Journalism as product
Like USA Today selling its data, POLITICO making a bookstore, my local public radio station selling membership or TechCrunch launching Disrupt. Publishers that successfully turn their content into brand building and marketing for a product are the ones that are surviving.
It’s the real reason Patch is having so much trouble: they’re selling nothing but pageviews and sunshine. I’d bet Aol would make more money with Patch if it used it as a sales channel for its dial-up internet access. You know, the business which still accounts for the majority of its revenues.
In the past that product was a subscription and publishers were quite good at marketing and selling it. Now, we have to all get a bit more creative. Your role as a publisher is to connect and help your chosen community. Content is just one way of doing so.
Product as journalism
The irony here is while publishers are racing to be more like more “traditional” businesses, businesses are becoming publishers.
Fields like editorial strategy, content marketing and custom publishing are emerging, teaching brands how to act like publishers through company blogs, social media and more. Think of what American Express is doing with its OPEN network, Behance’s The 99 Percent or Groupon’s army of writers. 37Signals is a master of the company blog and spins its content off into books.
Suddenly, businesses are in need of carving out their own niches online as thought leaders. This leads to publications that can blur the line between journalism and marketing.
This collision exists beyond the web. Know why the New York Yankees continually snap up marquee free agents that aren’t named Cliff Lee? They own a TV network. According to Forbes, the Yankees made $400 million from the YES network. That’s more than ticket sales. Yankee Stadium could be completely empty for an entire season and the team could still make payroll, all from a TV network that “covers” them. Same goes for MLB, NFL, The Boston Celtics and multiple college teams. The product owns the medium.
How about e-commerce? Amazon is using its Prime program to rope users in, delivering the products first and then the content.
So what should I do?
The common theme among most of the aforementioned products is that the product is not the content. Sure Kindle singles and news apps are nice, but they won’t make a significant dent in anyone’s bottom line.
As much as it pains me to say it, I think Gary Vaynerchuk had it right when he gave a newspaper executive advice at the Inc 500 conference a few weeks ago.
You shouldn’t be worried about pageviews, Facebook likes or what Poynter is saying about you. You should worry about the trust of your customers and the strength of your product.