John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media (and Journal Register Co. and MediaNews Group) explained the Digital First business approach better than I would (which is good, since he’s the CEO) in his June address to the International Newsroom Summit in Zurich: How the Crowd Saved Our Company. His recent post on news media as medium and messenger elaborates, including the slide below. His September post announcing the formation of Digital First discussed some of the results of the approach so far (and we’re just getting started).
Peter Kirwan’s analysis of the Digital First approach also provides a good explanation. Ken Doctor’s post The newsonomics of ComboCo gave some insight on our plans (though much of it was speculative, so you might not see everything he mentioned).
Digital First entails experimentation with new business approaches as well as new journalism tools. Subscriptions or meters (the preferred terminology of paywall advocates) hardly count as experimentation, because they have been tried so often and so many ways, with different results. Jeff Jarvis has an intriguing idea, though, with his suggestion of a reverse pay meter. Jeff rightly says his proposal can’t work, because it relies on persuading people to pay. But I think some of the principles might work to encourage engagement in a model where the rewards come from sponsors, rather than from persuading users to subscribe.
The reverse pay meter reminds me a bit of the membership approach encouraged by Steve Outing. I’d like to explore a mashup of Steve’s membership idea with some of Jeff’s ideas for rewarding member participation.
Of course, I’ve written a fair amount on possible ways for a Digital First business to succeed, too:
- Cultivating multiple revenue streams
- Taking a different approach to obituaries (and other life stories)
- Mobile-first strategy
- The Complete Community Connection (my blueprint is nearly three years old and parts are surely outdated, but I’m sure other parts remain valid)
I’m not saying that Digital First Media is going to do all of the things I’ve described here (except those John Paton says we’re doing). But I think you’ll see our company trying a good number of these approaches and succeeding at most of them. And I hope other companies that have declared themselves digital-first try other revenue approaches.
I do know this: Newspaper advertising revenues have dropped by 64 percent (after adjusting for inflation) from the third quarter of 2005 to the third quarter of this year. After 21 straight quarters of dropping ad revenues, the news business needs a new revenue approach. I think Digital First is that approach.