Feb 24 2009

Paying for News

Jamie Barrows

Coffee and Newspaper
There has been a lot of talk lately from the old school newspapers about charging for news online. Saying they want to force people to pay for news as they read it.

Newspapers all over the country are struggling to find new revenue streams as the old dead tree based streams are drying up. The truth is that people don’t buy newspapers anymore. In fact, people don’t even read free newspapers anymore. More and more people read all of their news online. And that is hurting the newspaper industry that has been relying on subscriptions and print ads for it’s main revenue streams. If people aren’t buying your newspaper, that revenue stream is gone. And if people aren’t reading your newspaper (even if you give it away), then advertisers aren’t going to buy ads in your newspaper. And there goes the other main revenue stream.

On the online side, revenues are minuscule for most newspapers. Subscription based pay walls simply drive readers to other sites, and Internet ads don’t make up for the lost ads on the paper side. Competition for Internet ads is cutthroat and dominated by big giants like Google and Microsoft. And the traffic levels for many newspaper websites are even lower than their subscription list. So revenue from internet ads is often significantly lower than that of the paper edition. All of that adds up to a major crisis for the news industry.

So far the majority response of the newspaper industry is to claim they need to force the online users to pay subscription prices for access to the news content. The only way that is even remotely possible is if the ENTIRE industry switches to a subscription model. Because if even one newspaper or news source offers news online for free, then the whole model breaks down. And to be realistic, there is no way to ensure that all news sources abide by the agreement to charge for news. Even making it required by law (as some journalists have suggested) wouldn’t work in the online world. After all, laws can only be enforced within the geographical boundaries of the nation that implements them. And the Internet doesn’t follow geographical boundaries.

So the future of newspapers looks pretty bleak. No revenue from the old models, and the only new models they have come up with are simply impractical and doomed to fail. All in all, pretty bad.

That is until I read an article today in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. The best quote from the article that really sums up the entire point was the following.

“For years, publishers and editors have asked the wrong question: Will people pay to access my newspaper content on the Web? The right question is: What kind of journalism can my staff produce that is different and valuable enough that people will pay for it online?”
L. Gordon Crovitz

If you ask that question from the start, then all of the other problems go away. Because when you think about it, the problem with online revenues is a competition problem. Instead of competing with a few local newspapers for readers, you are competing with millions of newspapers all over the world. Most of whom are nearly identical to your newspaper. So there is no incentive for people to pay for access to your news over someone else’s news. And there is no particular reason for anyone to read your news website instead of one of your competitors news websites when it’s the same news.

But if your news is different in some way from that of your competitors, then they will read your website instead of other sites. And if your news provides some tangible benefit to the reader beyond simply keeping them informed, then they will be willing to do something to get it. With a tangible benefit you can charge a subscription for access, and people will pay it. And furthermore you can charge higher rates for your online ads because you can guarantee an audience that fits a specific mold.

This isn’t really a new concept. The problems facing newspapers today aren’t really any different than those any industry faces when it has a lot of competition. It’s just that most newspapers have gotten used to an environment where they didn’t really have to compete. And now that the Internet is forcing them to compete, they don’t seem to remember how.

Feb 20 2009


Jamie Barrows

Found the following on the 22 words blog. I thought it was worth re-posting.

“I’m busy” is generally an acceptable excuse.
I think “I’m not busy and want to keep it that way” should be too.

Feb 20 2009

When did it become a crime to succeed?

Jamie Barrows

Lately the tech news sites have been filled with rumors about a possible antitrust prosecution against Google. Most of the rumors are based on statements made by Obama’s nominee for antitrust chief, Christine Varney. She has mentioned that Google has acquired a monopoly type of position in the Internet advertising industry and may be a future target of antitrust proceedings.

There is no question that Google has a very large and rather dominant position in the Internet advertising industry. The vast majority of Internet advertising is controlled by Google and that majority is increasing all the time.

But when people look at why it’s so large and why it’s increasing, no one cites dirty tricks or monopolistic practices as reasons. All of the analysts, even those critical of Google, point out that Google simply offers a better value than any of it’s competitors. It’s sheer size does give it the ability to offer more at lower prices, but that doesn’t change the fact that what Google offers is better than what any of it’s competitors offer. Google offers better value to the the customers who are buying the ads, as well the websites hosting the ads. A win for everyone.

So basically the reason Google is so successful is because it is providing a better product than it’s competitors are providing. And because customers have recognized this, Google has become the dominant player in the market.

So when did it become a crime for a company to be too successful? When did it become against the law to gain too much market share by simply being better than anyone else? Where is that invisible line between having a successful law abiding business, and a business that is now too successful and illegal?

Oh, and before anyone says this is a Democrat/liberal vs Republican/conservative thing, I would like to remind you that the Bush administration was making many of the same types of statements about Google. So this isn’t because the Obama administration is anti-business and the Bush administration was pro-business. This is a mindset that affects both parties.

Your business is allowed to be a success as long as it isn’t too big a success. Because if you are too big a success, then aside from any illegal or unfair dealings, your business could be prosecuted.

Feb 9 2009


Jamie Barrows

The big stimulus bill that is supposed to fix all the economic problems with the US economy is currently being debated and worked through. And no matter what your view of economics is, and whether you think this will be good for the economy or bad for it, the bill will end up being passed in some form or another.

And more than likely it will be filled with clauses for special interests and pet projects of Congressmen and Senators from both parties. But that is the only way any large bills get passed anymore. So that isn’t anything new.

But as I see the politicians on TV and hear the arguments I can’t help remembering a quote I read recently.

“Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things.”
Russell Baker

So my question is this. Is this really progress? Is it necessary? Will it work? I really and truly don’t have the answer or know what I really think is right. But this is a big issue.

Feb 3 2009

Privacy and the Inadvertent me

Jamie Barrows

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before or not. At least I’m not sure if I mentioned it on this blog. But even if I have mentioned it before, it still bears repeating. Anything you put online may come back to haunt you some day in the future. So be careful what you post or say in forums and on blogs like this one.

What brought this topic to mind for me was a blog post I read on the Freedom To Tinker blog, called Satyam and the Inadvertent Web. Basically it’s the story of how a group of pictures taken and uploaded to Flickr several years ago, suddenly became highly relevant when Satyam became news worthy.

The pictures were taken by someone with no real connection to the company other than visiting it on a trip to India. They sat on Flickr for years and lived in obscurity all that time. Then Satyam got in the news for one of the biggest financial coverups of the Indian high tech industry. Suddenly, they were being referenced and viewed regularly. Suddenly those photos became a very large part of who the photographer is online.

The point is, whatever you say online. Whether on an obscure blog like mine, or on a major traffic destination, could become a big part of who you are and how you are perceived when people do a search for you.

People search engines are becoming better and better at finding all the bits and pieces of yourself that are scattered all over the web and aggregating them into a clear picture of you. Don’t believe me? Do a search for your name on Google and see what comes back. Probably more than you would expect. And Google doesn’t even specialize in people searches. If you do a search on a people specific search engine like Pipl.com. You will be amazed at what it can find about you. All those little comments, pictures, and even government records get matched up to your name. It can often even match up nicknames and pseudonyms that you have used in the past.

Those little tiny pieces of you that are scattered all over the web may lie in obscurity and be hardly noticed for years, and then a current news story can easily bring them to the forefront. Suddenly that comment or picture you posted years ago, is on the first page of a Google search for you. And what’s worse, is that you can’t ever really get rid of info once it is online.

It’s not like having an embarrassing conversation with someone or saying something stupid. Those things are easily forgotten once the conversation is over. Comments, blog posts, pictures, and social networking profiles can stick around forever once they are online. Even going back and deleting them (assuming you can) doesn’t really make them go away. They will still be in caches and archives all over the web. And it’s getting easier and easier to find that info if you are looking for it.

I’m not writing this to scare you off from commenting in forums or on blogs. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your own blog or facebook/myspace account. All I’m saying, is that you really should think very carefully before posting anything online. You should carefully consider your words before whipping out a comment on a blog or forum. Because you never know when that little piece of you might become a BIG piece of you.

Feb 2 2009

Third world myths

Jamie Barrows

Very interesting video on Western perceptions of both wealth and health in the third world.

Feb 2 2009

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

Jamie Barrows

My pastor, Josh Lipscomb, preached a very good sermon this past weekend, and I thought I would post the main theme here. I’ll start off with the main passage that the pastor used.

Psalm 77:1-15

To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph.

1 I cried out to God with my voice—
To God with my voice;
And He gave ear to me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing;
My soul refused to be comforted.
3 I remembered God, and was troubled;
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah

4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I have considered the days of old,
The years of ancient times.
6 I call to remembrance my song in the night;
I meditate within my heart,
And my spirit makes diligent search.

7 Will the Lord cast off forever?
And will He be favorable no more?
8 Has His mercy ceased forever?
Has His promise failed forevermore?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah

10 And I said, “This is my anguish;
But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the works of the LORD;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will also meditate on all Your work,
And talk of Your deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary;
Who is so great a God as our God?
14 You are the God who does wonders;
You have declared Your strength among the peoples.
15 You have with Your arm redeemed Your people,
The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

When things are darkest, and when the future looks bleakest, remember what God has already done for you. And trust that if he did that for you, he will be faithful to you in the future. Be grateful for everything he has already done. Believe that he will guide and protect you as he has done in the past.

Too often we (me included) forget to be grateful for what we have already been given. And we don’t trust God to bring us what is best for us.

We get depressed when things don’t go the way we think they should. A depression that, as the author of the psalm says, can bring us sleepless nights and crushing worry. But like the author, we can look at the wonders that God has already done and know that he can and will provide in the future.