Dude, who stole my page views?
Why does traditional media, including the online ones, struggle so much against user generated content (yes, as a matter of principle and whatever else you can hate the phrase for all you like) and non-traditional media generated content? Beyond the fact that most of the Youtubes are full of content produced by the traditional monsters (note to traditional media: your content discovery model is toast, find a new one or have one shoved down your throat with excessive force), the nagging little problem for the oldies is the cost structure. It is just way too expensive to produce the content they produce, while the average Joe with an N95 on the street might end up producing something that will blow you out of the water on any given day.
Once up on a time, the only way to produce and distribute content online was to pump in a lot of money. Everything would cost a fortune: the wire copies that are required to pump in the non-unique stories, the reporters who would create the unique content and the editors who would package and publish it all online. Web hosting was expensive, technical support was expensive, there was no Blogger, WordPress or even Django and to publish content online you would probably have to create and maintain a content management system of your own.
Before it became the favourite pond of sploggers, Blogger, along with a host of other publishing websites decimated the high entry cost to publishing, personal or otherwise. Of course, the quality of content on the average blog was not quite at par with something that came from a media house’s stable. Where they scored was in terms of width and variety. 200 bloggers on the same platform covers a much wider area than 20 of the best editors sitting together and the monopoly was broken.
All you need now to get published is a domain, a web hosting account and the ability to use a browser, totaling something less than $130 for a year. And if you go about it in a smart way, you can easily break even and even generate differing degrees of profit. This is why you have slew of new online publications that don’t do much of end-to-end original content. It is much easier and cheaper to let the big guys do the heavy lifting; they will just latch on to it and provide that little bit of insight and background, which is mostly not allowed in a normal reportage. There is really nothing wrong with that model, it is an opportunity that the traditional media model has brought about. Nobody should feel any shame in making a living off it.
The average mainstream online media publication (the ones that publish 24 hours or close to it) employs something in the region of 20 – 30 people in production to keep the show going. Mind you, that number does not guarantee any exclusive content; they can comfortably cover most of the day’s events, but creating exclusive content is an additional effort on top of that. Making things even more difficult for them are recent developments like Google’s refusal to index wire copies from publications anymore, while the agencies themselves charge you extra for online usage rights. It suddenly reduces the footprint these publications have on aggregators and search engines.
So, is it really that a Paidcontent or a Gawker Media will be the New York Times of 2010? I am afraid not. They do use a marginally leaner model of generating content, but they are still based on the flawed old model, which is too costly to run and it just does not scale. This is just an interim where there is a bit of arbitrage in terms of the cost vs revenue equation for the new guys, compared to the old ones, but it is not going to last forever and this is certainly not the future.