Publishers want their slice of linked-in economy

| Sep 16, 2009


(Note: This is the second column by that pillar of Boulder journalism, Jerry Lewis, pilfered, er, repurposed with his consent from his own blog, Boulder Report.)

If you’re reading this column, then you’re officially part of what Huffington Post founder and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington calls the “linked-in” economy.

Huffington and this new Denver-based Internet newspaper are the newest players in the intensely competitive Colorado media wars. This is Huffington’s third news site after launching in Chicago and New York. Next up is Los Angeles.

I’ll be as curious as you to see what happens. According to Wikipedia, the HuffPost as it is known, has more than 3,000 bloggers. And all 3,000 of us share at least one thing in common.

We’re both counting on you, the news consumer, to pass along news or commentary that you like to someone else. You might post a link on your Facebook page, you might give me a friendly tweet on Twitter (and someone else might retweet), or you could digg this to the social news site, where people link and vote on their favorite content. If all else fails, you might just copy and paste it into an e-mail. But that is so passé these days.

The more shared links (six in this post so far), the merrier for Web traffic numbers of both the Huffington Post, which counts its visitors in the millions, and my blog, the Boulder Report, which counts visitors in … well, let’s just say considerably less than millions, more like hundreds (and that’s in a month, not a day).

I got several interesting comments (another desirable thing in the blogging world) to a column I wrote in May called “Will screen staring be the demise of the printed news?” In it, I said readers might want to look at the HuffPost to see how blogs and videos can join with news coverage to create this new brand of journalism. Only four years ago Huffington started combining her own opinions with “as many interesting voices as possible,” and now bloggers on the site have included everyone from Barack Obama to TV host Bill Maher and Colorado’s Gary Hart. You can look at the sites Blogger Index to see who’s getting the most views.

Colorado’s been no stranger to the fast-paced changes in the newspaper business, particularly the demise of the Rocky Mountain News and Scripps’ exit from the Denver Newspaper Agency. That also resulted in my hometown newspapers, the Boulder Camera and Colorado Daily, moving entirely under ownership of the MediaNews Group, owner of the Denver Post.

As a news junkie, having run the Boulder County Business Report for 18 years, I access news online more than ever but still send out my Lab every morning to retrieve the Camera, Post and the Wall Street Journal from my driveway. He would absolutely hate retrieving my laptop. After selling the Business Reports in Boulder, Northern Colorado and Wyoming to Ohio-based Brown Publishing in early 2008, I do a lot of my writing at the Laughing Goat, an east Pearl Street coffee house where I also dig into free copies of the Daily, the Boulder Weekly, Denver’s Westword, Boulder’s Nexus and whatever else happens to catch my eye.Recently I drove to downtown Denver, where at Common Grounds I got the chance to meet Katharine Zaleski, senior editor for the HuffPost organization, and Ethan Axelrod, the new editor of the HuffPost in Denver. Both were at the end of a long day and still setting up meetings with Colorado publishers from Grand Junction to Aspen, explaining how news organizations could “opt-in” to add their content to the new HuffPost site here. Response, they told me, had been very good.

Much of what they shared with me was strikingly similar to Huffington’s recent online interviews with Jon Friedman of MarketWatch.

“The future of media,” Huffington said, “is going to be social media.

“The way to make money now is to follow the consumer … to embed your product in multiple sites.”

And counter to speeches by many newspaper publishers about creating more “paid” online content, Huffington says she doesn’t see “content behind walls succeeding unless you’re offering very specialized content.”

Compare her view to that of MediaNews owner Dean Singleton, also current chair of the Associated Press board. In interviews with Westword and others, he has advocated a business model to lock up much of his newspapers’ current free online content, giving it instead to only paid subscribers.

Fewer people accessing that content (the Post has about 254,000 subscribers daily and 704,000 on Sundays), of course, means fewer “links” — a 180 turn from the linked-economy strategy of the HuffPost.

One thing for sure, the Denver Post is watching closely what happens with this Internet-only Huffington Post. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Denver Post just announced a new advertising campaign called “I want to know” that will be on billboards, TV, radio and even Facebook and Twitter.

The pay-for-Web content debate is raging online, and it’s not just newspapers.

Monetization is the word investors and venture capitalists love to hear.

Google’s YouTube wants a deal in Hollywood to sell movie downloads right when they’re going to DVD release. Facebook and MySpace are battling for more paid display advertising, with about one of every five Web display ads now viewed on social networking sites. National ad buys into the HuffPost sites have included national advertisers like Starbucks and Volkswagen.

In her Marketplace interview, Huffington marvels at how fast her online news venture has made inroads and captured market share. Analysts believe the company is nearing a “break even” point, not bad in a recession.

“We are lucky that we don’t have to deal with the legacy costs of an old business,” she says. “And we are lucky that we are the new kid on the block. We didn’t even exist five years ago. YouTube didn’t exist five years ago.

“It used to take 20 years to become a brand,” she continues. “Now you can do it in a year if you tap into a need.”

I’ve been increasing my own time spent on blogging and social media, but I don’t really expect it to pay my bills.

My blogging competition? Something like 112 million other blogs according to blog search engine Technorati, and that number is a year old. China alone has 50 million bloggers, but fortunately here in Boulder not that many people read Chinese.

I also haven’t collected a dime yet via the Google Adwords on my own blog, but I’m working on it. I need to go with better display ads, other bloggers advise.

If I ever make it to page one of the HuffPost, maybe your “links” will help me out. With an average $3 per cappuccino per column, I’m far from breaking even.