I keep returning to Jeff Kaye and Stephen Quinn’s book on paying for journalism. Published earlier this year by Peter Lang Funding Journalism in the Digital Age is a snapshot of where the industry is at, how it got there, and the business models underpinning it.
It’s a valuable resource. I’ve read it once and returned to it on several occasions. As one colleague put it: “It’s nothing we don’t already know, but it puts it all in one place”, and that is a good thing.
Early on the authors make a couple of important points:
1. That the global financial crisis of 2008 accelerated a process that was already underway:
“Emerging technologies and changing social trends began to disrupt established media business models and practices long before the latest crisis on Wall Street. The news industry is making a transition away from print and broadcast distribution to primarily digital platforms. But the advertising and subscription business models that supported traditional media companies in the past appear unable to do so in a digital age.”
2. That innovation is needed, but news organisation are not properly equipped:
“News organisations have often lagged at developing new systems and practices. Years of high profitability and limited competition brought complacency. But change they must.”
They go on to reference the authors of Grabbing Lightning: Building a Capacity for Breakthrough Innovation, who say that the management processes of large companies never excel at innovation because they are designed to ensure reliable, repeatable processes.
Anyone who has worked in a newsroom will nod in agreement.
The book then goes on to look at current and emerging business models, including philanthropy, trusts, micro-financing and niche publishing. It then identifies patches of innovation and looks at emerging technologies, such as electronic papers an e-readers.
An important chapter is the one on microeconomic concepts. My favourite is creative destruction. This is a term used by economist Joseph Schumpeter in his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. He used it to explain how innovation that destroys existing technologies, business models etc can encourage economic growth. In their book, Kaye and Quinn say:
“Nowhere is the concept of creative destruction more relevant than in the newspaper industry, where industry leaders have been accused of clinging to old methods and models, high profit margins and monopolistic practices, and not shifting resources into new technologies and models quickly enough.”
Anyone working in the industry, or training to be a journalist, should read this book. It puts a lot of the challenges in perspective and hopefully will give journalists and editors some ideas about how to adapt.