Around Journalism | Nov 11, 2009 |
If you read part one of this series, you know that the facts and statistics show a pretty bleak future for old media.
But that doesn’t mean the new media evangelists are correct in assuming that the Internet is ready to fill the gap left by the fall of newspapers.
It’s just not going to happen until online news finds a way to generate significant revenue.
Of course, news sites aren’t alone in their struggle to make money online. Very few Web sites have found financial success or have a sound business plan, and as a result Internet startups remain a risky investment.
Consider the financial house of cards that is Facebook, which was founded in 2004. The site’s 300 million users and at least 68 million monthly uniques make it tops in the finicky social networking niche. Those users have attracted investors, as Facebook has accepted more than $100 million in venture capital and been valued at $5-$10 billion.
It sounds like a great Internet success story, until you realize that Facebook’s promise of future financial success is built on the extremely shaky base of online advertising revenue. The results have been underwhelming. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerman said in September that his site was “cash flow positive” for the first time since its launch five years ago, which is pretty average for a new business.
Of course, Facebook isn’t in an average business – it’s in social networking, where users have yet to demonstrate significant brand loyalty over time. Social network users are always willing to drop their current brand for the next big thing, which is why Facebook already has shown concerns about Twitter.
Zuckerman has to race to innovate and generate enough money from an uncertain revenue source to pay back his investors and make them and himself a profit before that next big thing emerges.
It’s setting Facebook up for a fall, which should further indicate to online news producers that Internet advertising can’t be trusted to support a business on its own right now. They need to find an additional revenue source.
Many good ideas have been suggested. To date, however, the only solution that’s attracted wide interest is paid content, which hasn’t worked in the past. Some are pushing for nonprofit funding for the news, but as I’ve said before, that revenue source doesn’t exist.
The new media evangelists need to test additional sources of online revenue and find a model that can sustain them before they can claim to be the future of the news industry. That goes for individual bloggers as well as the big newspaper corporations that run newspapers.
While operating a good blog is certainly much, much cheaper than running a good newspaper, it still requires at least a few hundred dollars investment in equipment and server space. And blogging will have to be your full-time job if you hope to demonstrate that you can be a better source of news than a newspaper, which means you’ll need to generate enough revenue to pay for your salary and benefits.
On average, that’s probably about $40,000 annually.
Until the new media evangelists prove that online news producers across the country can regularly generate at least that much revenue, they can’t claim to be the long-term, stable future of the news industry.
So the new media evangelists have yet to show that they’re the future and old media is in decline. Where do those of us in the media business go from here? (Get ready for part three…)