How the News Industry Can “Cross the Internet Chasm”

I’m just finishing a fascinating little book called The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. It’s written by John Battelle, co-founding editor of Wired and founder of The Industry Standard (my all-time favorite magazine about the Internet business).

John covers a lot of ground in this book, but I was fascinated by his insight into why media organizations have to rework their business models when it comes to the Internet. Relying on subscriptions alone can prove deadly.

How does the news industry “cross the chasm” and survive in a search-driven world? …it starts by opening up its sites and realizing that in a post-Web world, the model for news is no longer site driven. Sites that wall themselves off are becoming irrelevant, not because the writing or analysis is necessarily flawed, but rather because their business model is. In today’s ecosystem of news, the greatest sin is to cut oneself off from the conversation. Both The Economist and the [Wall Street] Journal have done that.

So what is to be done? My suggestion is simple: take the plunge and allow deep linking — let others on the Web link to your stuff. Notice that I did not say abandon paid registration; in fact, I support it. Publishers can let the folks link to any story they post, but limit further consumption of their site to paid subscribers.

Why is this important? Because, increasingly, people are getting the bulk of their news online. And “the conversation” happens when I forward a link on an interesting news item to a few of my friends. They comment and forward it along to a few more. Before long, you’ve got thousands of people talking about an article they saw online. Think of it as a virtual water cooler. But if I can’t provide my friends with a link to your article, then I’m probably not going to talk about it…or your paper or magazine or new product or new service…at all.

Do the Web right.

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