We simply had too little time this morning to unpack or even fully introduce The Long Tail this morning. I will try here to follow up on just one of the key threads this morning and on a lingering question on at least one of the discussion evaluation sheets: What are the implications of a long tail economy on or for the news biz?
I have good news and bad news. Let’s begin with the good news.A diminishing value on “cultural buckets,” as Anderson refers to the hits and the hit makers, means an end to monopolies. This is good for entrepreneurs, for single-voice publishers, for new news organizations just starting out. The era of “one size fits all” is over because the scarcity model (analog) has given way to the abundance model (digital). Consumers (and readers/viewers/interactors) are networked, and this network is choosing more non-hits than hits.
The bad news: Competing on the tail means facing a dizzying, daunting number of competitors. Because of printing, paper, ink and distribution costs, the print news industry is a “hit”-driven business — it has to be. Remove those costs, which could also be seen as barriers to entry into the marketplace, and you get what we’ve seen online – everyone and his or her mother publishing online (the giant 90% crap model I drew on the whiteboard).
So we end up competing not only against the New York Times, CNN.com and the Rome News-Tribune, hypothetically here, but also with each and every blogger on any one of the topics we’re reporting on, on all the topics we’re reporting on. Imagine the long tail of competition re-configuring for each and every story or multimedia package we publish online, as we compete within a new niche each and every time we publish.
Print is dead, or at least it’s dying. When, therefore, should a print newspaper, facing the worst fiscal year for the industry since the depression, consider moving all of its assets online? The question is how to replace enough of the revenue streams that have long-supported print fast enough to continue to fund news and editorial operations, and do it while facing new competition on every front. The AJC, to cite just one of hundreds of potential examples, appears to be losing this battle.
Not all newspapers need wholly migrate to online, but many will have to in order to survive. And online needs these newsgathering, original reporting enterprises. A study in 2007 determined that more than 95% of blog content is derivative, leaving less than 5% that includes or delivers original reporting.
I’ve described this ecosystem before as a whale, with the whale metaphorically representing good, old-fashioned, boots-on-the-streets reporting and newsgathering. An entire ecosystem of dependent organisms (advertisers, reporters, editors, ad reps, newspaper delivery people, printing plants, even bloggers) feeds off this whale. The 95% of commentary, media criticism and observations based on original journalism is part of this dependent ecosystem.
The whale is ill, perhaps critically so. It needs to adapt to its new digital ocean. The questions: Can the analog, hit-driven whale evolve fast enough to stay alive, to become digital and keep this whole ecosystem alive? Can it grow a long tail? I await your responses as you look to the long tail for an answer to last week’s question, how to save journalism.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” — Thomas Jefferson