Seeing how everyone and his dog is nowadays concerned with "the future of Journalism", I'm throwing this idea to the wind, because obviously I won't have time to implement it, I've been saying it for ages, and it's not very original anyway (I'm surprised nobody built it yet, but the Guardian is getting there). It can be done today, in a couple of months, leveraging existing tools. It's not a start-up project though, mainly because you need contacts in the journos community to get a few high-profile hacks to attract critical mass... The Huffington Post could do it, once they burn through their current venture capital. But I digress.The Model:
- Author has a site (e.g. at http://content.someauthor.name) where he publishes his content.
- public feed is free, summary-only, with ads. (To view the full article, pay $0.49, or get free article with ads, or pay for "big" stories / analysis)
- private feed is full, no ads, $1.49 for 4 articles, $3.99 or $4.99 for 10 articles, $49.99 per year.
- subscription gives you full revision history (something the "pro" will want)
- subscription gives you sub-by-email
- articles can include trackback-like links to aggregators ("published in NewZine on 21/03/2009" etc)
- "NewZine" aggregates feeds from various authors
- articles are free to view with ads
- aggregated feeds are summary-only, with ads.
- aggregator pays author 40% of ad revenue on "his" page-articles, or agreed flat.
- aggregator pages include canonical links to author site.
- Author gets much more visibility. You can have Toynbee without The Guardian, Monbiot without Monde Diplo, Mura without La Repubblica, etc.
- Author is not subject to "gatekeeping", can potentially "make it" on his own. Platform is very open and flexible.
- Author can potentially get more money-per-article, especially if the content is good. See how the iTunes model is making people pay more for music even though they don't realize it. This is the main selling point, because you need to persuade authors, not companies, to switch. As long as authors will crave the (limited but generous) safety net from the current (oligarchic and scarcity-based) setup, the revolution won't happen.
- Lower incentives to work for "agencies" like Reuters, which are bad for the market and will die anyway. Aggregators become real-time agencies.
- Aggregator can filter good/bad articles, keeping quality high, without risking much.
- Aggregator has extremely low costs, and very high traffic (== money from ads).
- Feeds can have all sort of metadata (location, tags..), making it possible to have automated semantic services ("get me all the local news for Stockport", "give me all movie reviews" etc) without any further editorial efforts.
- can take a while to break even
- newsreaders might not support private feeds (like GoogleReader)
- Authors will need help setting up their feeds / sites.
- You need buy-in from a couple of big names, or a scoop, to get initial visibility.
- must be implemented very quickly (as usual!) before other models appear. (My bet is that Murdoch will find a way of screwing everyone else, as usual, and make it a de-facto standard.)
As much as new models for music are act-based rather than company-based (bands are now supposed to build their fanbase through the net before they get signed), new models for journalism will be journalist-based rather than journal-based. Middlemen will tend to disappear, acting only as (unobtrusive) filters/aggregators. Hacks will have to produce a bit more, but they will see a much bigger share of the profits. Pricing can be tailored per feed (sports news: expensive / celeb-gossip: cheap, etc).
You couldn't have done this in 1999, when only a handful of geeks knew what RSS was; but you can very easily do it today. I'd say a decent hack would easily rake in $20K/30K per month (plus books etc), news quality would improve (as incentives for good and regular material would be higher), and the aggregator's costs would be so low that they'd basically be printing money. What's not to like?