Henry Blodget at the Internet Outsider has done some sums on the future of newspaper revenues and costs. Needless to say he paints a less than rosy picture. But, for a journalist, the most worrying aspect is this nugget:
Do you know why [newspapers are] screwed? It’s actually not the cost of paper, ink, trucks, printing plants, and other physical distribution expenses. Rather, it’s the cost of content creation.
Memo to hacks everywhere: when he says “cost of content creation”, he means “your salary”.
His calculations are solid and his assumptions valid. With very very few exceptions, online ad revenues generated by pieces of online content do not cover the cost of creating that content. That means when offline revenues fall (and fall they will), you’re – to use Blodget’s pithy phrase – “screwed”.
So what to do?
Hope current online ad revenues for news organistions increase enough to match offline ones? If you’re hoping like that, hope me a solid gold, eco-friendly Lamborghini Countach, the results will be the same.
Charge for content? In my experience this guarantees such a small audience that articles generate less revenue than if they were free and attracting ad revenue. Don’t just take my word for it. Ask the Noo Yoik Times.
Get a job stacking shelves and be a journalist part-time? To hear some people tell it, this is the future of journalism – amateur enthusiasts sleuthing through local issues, posting stories for prestige. There is a problem with this and not many people will thank me for pointing this out: the ability to collect information, sort it in a coherent way, present it an intelligent fashion that is entertaining, grammatical and spelled correctly is restricted to a very small segment of the population – and not enough journalists.
Amid all the (justified) excitement about blogging it is worth remembering that the vast majority of news-related blogs link to stories by professional journalists. So, after the economic meltdown of mass media, who will write the original stories for others to link to? Quis blogodiet ipsos blogodes?
The reader demand is clearly for quality journalism. Who will produce this if there are no longer professional reporters? The role of bloggers, citizen journalists and user-generated content is assured. But the current online economic models have no place for full-time experts who want to make a living out of content creation.