But, as great newspaper and magazine visibility suffer, it seems that as things stand, it isn’t worth that much. The data collected is patchy, it’s collected by different people, in different ways, it’s not connected on mobiles and when people have it, they’re not allowed to or reluctant to actually use it.
Our attention is also, as I’ve talked about before, not worth that much. The combination of lower ad yield and vanishing subscriber bases is what is killing media owners. It’s not only them that suffer, our mobile apps see ever larger, more intrusive ads and our social media feeds become blocked with “you’ll never guess what,” remember when headlines used to tell us things, not ask us questions or make statements about ourselves?
I liken our news diet to food. In the past, we had long-term relationships with quality content providers in the forms of newspapers and magazines. We paid for cover issues and subscriptions, and we entered an almost maternal like relationship where they would provide us with a balanced diet of healthy food —sometimes expensive to make and always from a wide variety of sources. We’d keep coming back because it made us feel good, we knew roughage, variety, things that were hard to digest and made us feel uncomfortable would be good for us, after all it was in their interest to keep us happy, wise and curious.
Modern media has become like fast food, it’s a quick hit of news when we crave it most, it’s without substance, there is little variety, its super cheap, unchallenging and unvaried. We know it’s not good for us, but it satisfies our craving, it always feels better that it is. It’s a sugary rush of a quizzicle, the quick carbs of a cat video, the fatty saltiness of “ 15 reasons you love New York” — and it’s taking over the world.
The problem for news sources is it’s impossible for quality content to keep up with the thrusting challenge of cheap fast food, it’s expensive, doesn’t spread virally, of limited appeal, both in audience and occasion. We don’t crave it and even though we say we want it, we rarely consume it unless forced or part of a concerted effort.
Quality content providers from The New York Times to Conde Naste are failing, while the new incumbents of cheap, quick, easy, viral hits, the Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Viral Nova thrive despite their empty calories.
We all know the death of great media is a shame, we all know we should be paying for it, but we don’t do much about it. It’s the current paywall and advertising system that is to blame. As much as I love The New York Times, or a good Chicken Caesar Salad, I don’t want to only eat that. I want variety to my diet, and paywalls don’t offer that. We often think in the modern age that people don’t read newspapers any more, it’s true, they read the articles and the new front page of the news in Twitter, friends emails and Facebook.
I think the solution comes in three forms, all based on destroying some of the assumptions we’ve made.
Pay With Data
One the one hand, we hate our privacy being stolen, on the other hand, our data is incredibly value and the only thing worse than relevant ads are irrelevant ads. I could imagine a future where in order to access valuable online content, we earn credits by completing online forms about our habits and intentions. It could be as easy as embedding a cookie, or as manual as monthly questionnaires, but I’d love to see better ads, for 5 minutes of my time each month and free quality news
Pay Via Better Ads
Online ads are currently cheap because they don’t work and they are ignored. Video ads look set to spread like wildfire on the Internet, which will soon make browsing even worse than it is now. Why do we expect 30 second ads online? What if 3 second video ads became the default ad of the Web? We’d see fast free browsing, we could see advertising served as sequential micro-ads that build over time. An ad that is both in video form, and actually noticed could be worth far more.
Pay with Micropayments
If your data is too much then why not pay with real currency? Perhaps we could create a credit system where we buy a universal digital microcredit through our phone bill or credit card to purchase tens of thousands of credits per month. Then access to paid sites would be charged for based on the unit time we spend on that site.
The death of quality content and the rise of poor content is every bit as problematic as the rise of obesity. It’s encouraging lazy thinking, entrenched viewpoints, and it’s killing one of the most vital arts in the world: journalism. This is a big problem, and I’d love to see the next billion dollar VC company as the one that nails how we can spread wisdom through the Internet.