I think, closer to the lines of thought that Ben Thompson of StratecheryÂ has laid-out, that news publishing is about to undergo a major nichification – the days of everyone trying to report everything is over.
“Local” (whether by geography, interest, or some other grouping mechanism) publishing in narrowly-defined niches is basically going to finish gobbling the Old Line news publishers in the next 3-5 years. And I see automated “curation” (though, if it’s automated, it’s technically not “curating”) as a clever way to cross-cut unforeseen niches from other niches (and from the handful of “major” publishers that will refuse to die – even through they’re going to dramatically shrink very soon) – think applying pivot table data anaysis concept to news and publishing, rather than mere data.
Jean-Louis GassÃ©e wrote in February the following about Facebook, & Google, about news publishers: â€œIf they are really willing to contribute to a sustainable news ecosystem, as they claim, both should allow publishers to sell subscriptions on their platforms (while collecting a fee, obviously).â€Â
And that’s certainly an interesting idea – but one that I think will only last, if it even comes to fruition, for a very short period of time. It’s the Napster of news publishing.
I see news publishing undergoing the same sea change the music industry did starting in the late 90s with the rise of #Napster. Until Napster came along, if you wanted to listen to a specific song, you had to either a) wait for it to be on the radio, b) get the vinyl/tape/CD, c) get a friend to record it for you from the radio or some media they had.
Then Napster and its ilk came along with peer-to-peer file-sharing, crazy lawsuits from the #RIAA, and services like #Apple’s #iTunes charging a mere $0.99 per track (and $9.99 per digital album) made file-sharing (which became a major attack vector for malware) far far less interesting: why spend hours searching for and downloading songs (which might be lousy quality, not the “real” song, etc) when you could just go to iTunes and get what you want in a couple minutes for 99Â¢?
Then came Pandora. And Spotify. And probably all kinds of other services I don’t know anything about. Why? Because people wanted what they wanted when they wanted it.
The same is true for “news”. How much of an average newspaper issue does the historically-average newspaper readerÂ actually read? 10%? 30%? 50%? I’d bet anything north of 20% is highly unlikely overall.
And what do you have to do to “read” the news in a newspaper? You need to skip past ads, you need to flip between pages (and sometimes sections), you need to physicallyÂ get the paper. And on and on. Paginated websites (like diply, just to name one) try to replicate the newspaper feel (flipping pages, skipping ads, not being able to see everything until you get to the end, etc) in a move to make money by selling ads and forcing eyeballs to look at them. (To combat that, folks like me run tools like piholeÂ and ublock origin.)
Nichifying news is going to be a huge thing very soon: somewhat akin to the idea of targeted newsletters, but for “real” news, and not just something related to a website.
Comments on “what is happening with news publishers?”
“Nichifying” news is basically organizations responding to a scoping problem. In the age of the Internet and CNN, do I really need the local (county or city) paper to cover national politics? Surely they could cut a lot of the “news” space they have to fill with every issue and instead focus on the things that they’re the only ones to cover, city/county issues (the school board budget has been a big story locally lately). Same with local sports (HS and area non-D1 colleges).
Your typical local paper can’t expect to compete with basically anybody on national news, because those outlets are either running the exact same AP wire releases, or have dedicated reporters for those issues that are providing better depth and coverage. Rather than try to joust that windmill, I’d love to see more emphasis on the areas where they do add value, local news.
“Niche” news is great for mediums where publishing costs are minimal but reach is large geographically (e.g. online) and where the target audience is small in any arbitrary locality. Even then, the big indicator for success (to my observation) has been what value are you adding to conversations on the topic? Are you doing the only in-depth reporting on an area that traditionally gets a blurb at best? Do you happen to know all the major players in a particular field, giving you the ability to get the inside story straight from the sources? Is this topic on an obscure area that you’re one of the few people that happens to be knowledgeable in? Are you just particularly at breaking down a complicated topic that most people don’t understand/think about (e.g. Alton Brown on Good Eats discussing the science behind cooking and food)?
I think the major trend for successful news outlets is going to be identifying the things that only they can do (or at least the only things they’re capable of doing), and dropping everything else.
That’s very close to Thompson’s argument – that local press needs to cover local issues.
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