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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Something doesn't add up in digital news

The Huffington Post is starting a British site this summer, which means there will be even more entertainment, media and current affairs in the British media market. It's customary for the newspapers and sites that are already in the British market to puff out their chests and suggest it won't affect them because what they do is different. This could be a mistake. Nobody is ever displaced by somebody coming along and doing what they already do. In fact they're never actually displaced. Instead they find their oxygen - whether that's in the shape of ad revenue, circulation revenue, viewing hours, leisure pounds or brain space – cut off by somebody coming along and doing something which is just sufficiently like what they're doing but for less money or no money at all to cause problems. In the case of the Huffington Post they have a huge advantage over the newspaper groups because the majority of their material is contributed free.

Some of the newspapers think they can survive by paying for the generation of content which they then give away for free and monetise with advertising. I don't, nor does the CEO of one of the biggest advertising agencies. He suggested this week that the newspaper groups could revive reading by giving away 100 million iPads. (Agencies are always strong on how other people should spend their money.) I still think it's not too late for the media owners to come to their senses and stop giving all their content away for free. The really galling thing about the likes of the Huffington Post stealing their lunch is the fact that those same content aggregators rely on the traditional news gatherers skills to provide the reporting on which their clouds of speculation and comment depend. What are they going to link to when they've all gone bust?