Thursday, September 13, 2007

Journalism without advertising? Possibly, Searls says.

Doc Searls has written a terribly thoughtful and thought-provoking post on the future of journalism and the economic model that might -- or might not -- support it.

Searls' thesis is that with the digital age wringing inefficiencies out of the system, ad money won't be there forever -- even online. And then, what are the implications?

While rivers of advertising money flow away from old media and toward new ones, both the old and the new media crowds continue to assume that advertising money will flow forever. This is a mistake. Advertising remains an extremely inefficient and wasteful way for sellers to find buyers. I’m not saying advertising isn’t effective, by the way; just that massive inefficiency and waste have always been involved, and that this fact constitutes a problem we’ve long been waiting to solve, whether we know it or not. ...

The holy grail for advertisers isn’t advertising at all, because it’s not about sellers hunting down buyers. In fact it’s the reverse: buyers hunting for sellers. It’s also for customers who remain customers because they enjoy meaningful and productive relationships with sellers — on customers’ terms and not just on vendors’ alone. This is VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. It not only relieves many sellers of the need to advertise — or to advertise heavily — but also allows CRM (Customer Relationship Management) to actually relate, and not just to capture and control.

As VRM grows, advertising will shrink to the the perimeters defined by “no other way”. It’s hard to say how large those perimeters will be, or how much journalism will continue to thrive inside of them; but the sum will likely be less than advertising supports today.

Searls suggests much of journalism might be done largely for free by "amateurs" because it will provide them credentials to open doors to other profitable ventures. Or there might be a new business model we haven't figured out yet, one that involves "VRM" for journalist, too. This is a fascinating idea that deserves some serious discussion since customer relations has never been a strong suit among many people inclined to be journalists. It also is a bit of a counterpoint to those like Phil Meyer and his push for professionalism as journalism's future path -- or at least as the bridge to a new, unknown future.

(Thanks to Mark Hamilton for the pointer.)

Contrast that with Jeff Jarvis' take on the newspaper in 2020 that relies heavily on finding a new model where news organizations develop an advertising network -- selling inside and outside their sites, on their content and that produced by others.

I'm not saying Jarvis and Searls are mutually exclusive -- in fact you could argue that Jarvis' vision of a much-expanded advertising network flows from the thesis Searls posits. Yet it's interesting on the face to see how apart we still sometimes seem to be.

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