Most reports of these imminent changes indicate that publishers still think they may be able to coax "readers" into paying for access to some of their news content, and therefore are exploring various price points and content packages to identify the right formula to accomplish that goal.
But unless an entire industry segment (say the 30 largest daily newspapers in the U.S.) can band together and does this in a coordinated* manner, I don't see how any one company, even The Times, has much of a chance at pulling this off.
There is an entirely different approach the industry should explore and that is how to repackage its content into useful utilities that can be marketed to specific audience segments.
In this context, entrepreneurs Milo and Thuy Sindell have created a tool that may be of help. This L.A.-based couple, with backgrounds in business consulting and publishing, are launching Knowledge Genie today, a digital publishing platform that "allows you to publish what you know to a web app," called a genie, which you then can sell to your audiences.
The process of setting up a genie is pretty simple once you set up an account and follow the step-by-step DIY guide, although true to form I found ways to make it more difficult than it had to be, by not grasping the site's url protocol at first.
The potential here for a media company could be enormous, but first they have to re-imagine themselves as reservoirs of talented experts whose knowledge goes beyond "news," which could be resold in the form of guidebooks and other tools. Traditionally, the way media folks have monetized this aspect of their work has been to write a book and then get paid to deliver lectures.
But books take a long time to produce, and time is money, plus for the most part, these types of books are not all that successful -- probably because writing a good book is a great deal harder than most people (including most journalists) realize.
Alternatively, by using a digital tool like Knowledge Genie, you could theoretically sidestep these large book projects and break down your expertise into a much more granular level â€" bite-sized chunks of expertise -- that can be priced at rates for distribution into multiple markets. Here's an example.
I've been helping various media companies, either as an employee or a consultant, to add or create online news services for the past 15 years. Over that time, I've become familiar with the challenges a new company faces when it tries to join what is a very crowded field.
You could probably say that I am something of an "expert" in this process, at least for our present purposes.
So I decided to try out Knowledge Genie by creating a little entity called "Adding News to Your Website." It's a 2,500-word guide that pretty much provides an overview of the key issues involved. In an hour or so, I created this genie, which I now could attempt to sell.
Now, that's an example of what a single blogger could do. By contrast, The New York Times has hundreds of experts on staff; each of whom is probably knowledgeable about a range of issues, large and small, and many of whom have published hundreds and thousands of articles over the years.
The Times could repackage some of this information as NYT Genies, sell them to the public, share the proceeds with their content creators, and produce a new revenue stream more based on servicing specific audience segments than the one-size-fits-all model from its past.
The business model used by the Sindells themselves is helpful in that they don't want to share in any of this revenue generated by content creators. So Knowledge Genie, the company, wants no part of royalties, commissions, hidden fees--As Thuy Sindell explains, "We've gone through the publishing experience -- we don't want to own the author's knowledge. We don't want the royalties. You should own your own knowledge and profit exclusively."
Instead, the couple as built a tiered pricing strategy to charge for the genies, as opposed to the content of the genies. Anyone can have one free genie, but the fee for two is $24/month, rising to $189/month for 50 genie systems, i.e., the level appropriate for a larger media company. This pricing model is reminiscent of that used by other utility companies, like the traffic tracker StatCounter, which lets you try out its product on an extremely limited basis, then once you're hooked, charges a increasingly steep monthly fee as your traffic scales.
Knowledge Genie supplies a dashboard with visitor metrics and the ability to add multimedia, with options to publish it or keep it private, and so on. Next up from the Sindells: A genie marketplace (think iPhone store).
Other recent coverage of media startups at Bnet:
WordHustler Aims to Build Digital Marketplace for Book Publishing
Smashwords Takes eBooks Mobile
OakBook Puts Hyper-Local Model to Work
* Any industry-wide coordinated strategy would, of course, raise anti-trust concerns.