Wikipedia Founder: How To Save The Newspaper Industry
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder, had a few words to offer ailing newspaper and media companies looking to cut costs and compete better online. The online maverick pointed to the Wikipedia business model.
During the opening keynote remarks Tuesday at the ad:tech 2009 San Francisco, Wales told attendees that newspapers and traditional media companies cannot compete alone in online media.
"They should just give up," he said, but did suggest a few cost-cutting measures. This starts with examining the topic that reporters cover and deciding how to tap into other sources for information, similar to Wikipedia's model.
For instance, the very best political bloggers are easily equals to the best New York Times columnists, Wales said. They do it for free because they love it. "Fabulous opinion editorialists" don't need the infrastructure of a publishing company or newspaper to succeed.
Wikipedia, founded in 1996, has 25 employees, but it relies on thousands of people worldwide to support the community. Today, the site is the fourth-largest Internet company. There are 2.8 million articles published in English, and it offers content in 22 other languages that add content for free.
Wales said media companies need to tap this model, yet keep their competitive advantage, which is the ability to send reporters to locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. "I think newspapers should try and invite the community in and take over sports journalism. Avid sport fans write tons of content and there are people who would pay money to have the job of a Sports Illustrated reporter.
News is widely syndicated -- and that's one reason why it's difficult to charge for the content, Wales said. Smaller newspapers pick up news from The Associated Press, for example, but that type of syndicated online model makes sense. "If you went into Google News and didn't see 600 copies of the same story, but just one, that one could make money -- and spreading it everywhere doesn't make sense," Wales said.
Many newspapers are transitioning from print to online and incorporate online video, but not many are taking advantage of user-generated content. The industry is in its infancy.
"When I look at consumer-generated video like YouTube, it feels a lot like text did in 1999," Wales said. "It's a lot of individuals posting things they made themselves. Some is great, some really awful. We haven't seen communities come together to produce bigger projects."