Why Manhattan and Not Rome

We plan to skip the WAN/IFRA/FIPP conference this week in Rome and attend the micropayments conference on Monday in Manhattan (see previous item for outlines of both).

The newspaper industry has never developed any theoretical framework about either what and how it should publishing online or how to make any money doing so. Why is a theoretical framework important? Because if you don’t know how to navigate, then you won’t be able to get there.

The newspaper industry instead wandered into online publishing and is still trying to find its way. A decade ago, someone in the newsroom (generally a graphics or IT editor) discovered the World Wide Web and shoveled onto it some of his newspaper’s headlines and stories. A year or two later, one of the newspaper’s advertising salespeople noticed and decided to sell ‘space’ on that Web ‘page’, just like in print. The results are the newspaper shovelware sites replete today throughout the industry. And for years since, the newspaper industry online publishing conferences’ agenda are full of ‘the search for a profitable business plan’ and ‘let’s find some publication that might be making money at this, who we’ll ask to tell us how.’ Is it really any wonder that most online newspapers aren’t profitable and that these sites receive less frequent use than even their newsprint versions, long suffering from declining circulation, do.

Two years ago at NetMedia in London, we detailed why shovelware newspaper Web sites will never really profit nor succeed their newprint editions. Nevertheless, newspapers persist at shovelware business plans or in the leaden hope that adding video (‘convergence’) will somehow improve their situation.

No, publishing is a science, not a trade. You need the architecture before you can build, and the architecture arises from theory. What currently masquerades for theory in the online newspaper business is ‘we’ll publish it in HTML rather than on newsprint’ or ‘Maybe if we redesign our site yet again, traffic and our revenues will improves.’ Too, bad, but that’s the status quo. And it’s been going on for so long that shovelware is now the accepted business plan. The agenda for the WAN Rome conference shows there won’t be much new and little of theoretical interest. [UPDATE: And from the blog coverage of the conference at PaidContent.org, it shoulds like we’re being proven right.]

By contrast, the micropayments conference in Manhattan is all about theory: What could you do if you were able to charge micro-amounts? What would you charge? How would you charge (per page or stream, per day or month, hybrids, or some new model)? What content would people pay for? At what price points? It’s at least a start at planning the route before departure. At not wandering. Moreover, the presences of speakers from New York Times Digital, VIBE/SPIN Ventures, Fortune.com, Nickelodeon Online, MIT, Jupiter Research, Smithsonian, Sony Music, Yahoo! Music, Warner Music, Sun Microsystems, PayPal, Visa USA, PaymentOne, and VeriSign comparably more interesting.