Old Media (newspapers, magazines, broadcasting corps, TV stations and radio) is dying and the only thing that might actually save them is to form a consortium and buy Facebook. Pew Research Center’s recent State of the News Media post confirms something that many of us probably already knew: that traditional media continues to die and has yet to find viable online revenue models, and that news wants to be shared socially. Could Old Media marry Social Media and serve us well while also monetizing enough to survive? The answer is a tentative yes.
Just the Facts
In my mind, news has always been a social experience. Long before mass transportation and mass media, merchants and other travelers brought news with them and sometimes shared it in the form of storytelling in front of a group of people. We seem to have come full circle, as a society, after a long era of news being disseminated mostly by media corporations. That’s changing, and as entities, these corporations have to adapt or continue to die.
- Fact: The Internet has become an important source of news. People seem to love to share news via Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. (However, according to Hitwise, Twitter is only #39 on a list of sites that people go to for breaking news.)
- Fact: It’s has become easy to share and reshare information, even break news via social media. It’s easy to take a video of some event and upload it to a video sharing site almost immediately. Citizen journalism is filling in Old Media’s gaps in news coverage.
- Fact: Old Media’s paid online content models don’t seem to have enough adherents to guarantee survival. Any number of quality print publications have ceased to exist, unable to replace lost print revenues. Advertisters are increasingly moving towards online or mobile platforms. There don’t seem to be a lot of options left, and the argument that they don’t provide good content is patently false. What they don’t provide is the type of ongoing coverage that the Internet can, and at a very low or non-existent price.
Suggestion: Old Media outlets should band together, form a consortium and buy Facebook, then monetize the medium, not the content. In this case, the medium would be social media.
Why Old Media Should Buy Facebook
Now, if you hold to the idea that social media is not supposed to be corporate, I’d personally agree with you there, but that hasn’t stopped businesses from using social media for marketing. If anything, it’s going to get worse in that regard. Businesses go where the potential customers are, as should Old Media. As Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is the message.” This can be interpreted in a few ways, but I’m taking liberties and saying that Old Media needs to focus on the current popular medium of delivery, which is social media. Hence, they need to buy Facebook and monetize the platform with multiple streams of income, all the while delivering the content we all want, the way we want it. This would be beneficial to both media outlets and media consumers. Here are some reasons why:
- Demand. A significant number of people (over 60% of Americans) already get some of their news online.
- Virality. Social media provides a ready viral channel, and people already share news content links, particularly on Facebook. (It’s a lot easier to share content on Facebook than Twitter, and the net result is more pleasant to scan.)
- Reader monetization. Social networkers are just starting to get used to the idea of virtual currencies and micro-transactions, thanks in part to some Facebook games and applications. While roughly 80% of online news consumers might not click an online ad, there are other ways to monetize readers, including CPM ads, video ads, targeted offers, and possibly micro-subscriptions for very niche content. Alternately, Old Media could learn a lesson from social gaming and assign points or virtual currency for reading, viewing and sharing content. The credits could then be used by readers to purchase additional niche content that is possibly paid for by a sponsor.
- Business monetization. There are numerous ways that Facebook could be monetized in the b2b (business-to-business) space, including subscriptions to demographic data, marketing features, exclusive licensing to content for mobile devices, per-usage charges for API access over certain volumes, and more. These ideas might appall you if you’re a social networker, but do you really think it’s not going to happen? Businesses are already using social media for marketing, and Twitter themselves have started monetizing by charging overage fees for access. An Old Media-owned Facebook could follow suit and implement freemium models.
- Preservation and self-preservation. If paid content models alone are not enough to allow Old Media to adapt and survive, then news quality will go down, and we might just see a day where “news” consists solely of inconsistent citizen journalism. Some of it might be readable, but the vast majority of content will not be. We as news consumers benefit by helping preserve quality news sources.
Of course, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp acquisition of MySpace hasn’t exactly paid off, so this wouldn’t necessarily be an easy task for Old Media to properly monetize Facebook without upsetting users. Granted, there might be a “social” backlash from users, but I’d hazard an educated guess that most true consumers of news want facts and probably prefer quality and consistency over the alternatives. I see few alternatives, with the exception of digital newspapers — ultra-thin digital “paper” that gives consumers the potential for receiving customized, filtered content, and whose cost is covered by demographically-targeted digital advertising and sponsorship. However, we’re not there just yet in terms of mass availability or infrastructure, and Old Media has to survive long enough. Otherwise, we run the risk of seeing an era where “news” is solely a rehash of information and misinformation.
What do you think? Do you read news online? Have you ever paid for a newspaper or magazine? Do you still buy either? What would equivalent digital content have to provide you (features, frequency, experience, quality, etc.) for you to be willing to pay for it? Or would you put up with advertising that would allow you to consume news for free?