Spotify for News: a solution for investigative journalism


Democracies are fragile. If we want them to live and prosper, we must support their pillars. And one of them is currently under attack: journalism.

Beyond Fake News

It’s not the latest fake news epidemic that threats journalism. It is actually the other way around. Journalism is under threat and this has left the door wide open for fake news.

No, it’s not a conspiracy. The problem with journalism is financial.

With the advent of the internet, the business model of the old news organizations collapsed. Attempts to adjust to the new era have nor provided a general replacement, despite eventual success here and there.

The root of the problem is advertising. Gone are the days of the expensive full page ads. Internet does not offer something similar. And when it does, it brings in much less.

Internet ads cannot sustain adequately staffed, investigative, unbiased news teams. That’s why paywalls are on the rise among media companies. But a subscription is roughly equivalent to the newspaper price on the street, if we take out the paper costs. It was not the newspaper, the actual paper, sales that drove the income of the news outlets. It was advertising.

So, to save journalism, a new news business model is required. A business model that can generate enough revenues for news organization to thrive and prosper.

Enter the aggregator

If you ask those who continue to read the news (and care about content quality), where do they get them from, the most probable answer will be something like Flipboard. That is, not from specific “old” news brands directly.

But if this is what people like and people do, this where the monetization lies hidden.

Drawing parallels

Does this ring a bell? Certainly. We all have experienced something similar with the music industry. People don’t buy records or CD’s anymore (although the LP is making a come back, lately).

The iPod opened the way to buying single songs.And, then, came Pandora and the Spotify and their like, where you buy nothing, you own nothing, yet you can listen endlessly and at a very low cost.

A Spotify for news

Imagine a service which would be connected to all the major news organizations. Content would be categorised and served on demand much like in Flipboard. With one caveat. The content would not be free. It would require a subscription.

Another paywall? Yes. But with a difference. Paying for what one actually consumes. Proportionally.

Measuring readability is easy. And can provide the basis for splitting the subscription proceeds. So, the news orgs would continue to compete for capturing a greater audience within such an aggregator, but through other means.

What’s the difference?

… you might ask. It’s the psychology, stupid!

No hard facts here, but such a model can potentially attract a much bigger subscription base than the total aggregate of all newspaper subscribers.

Let me relate you my personal experience. In the past year, I bought subscriptions to two major publications. After a few months, I discontinued both, not because I was not satisfied with the content. On the contrary. I discontinued because I felt I did not consume enough of this content.

Why so? Because skimming content that superficially came my way through social media, I was tempted to jump here and there. But this innocent act of betrayal to my subscriptions, limited my available time. And I ended up feeling that I paid for something I was not making use of.

If the flitting behavior is our inherent preference, it should be the new black to. It should be the attitude we feel comfortable to pay for.

Is there an interested entrepreneur among my readers? Hey, you! You have a potential client here.

Change the web, Social Entrepreneurship and a new 80/20

change-the-web-challenge-logo-smSome days ago I got glimpse in twitter of the Change the Web challenge. I took a look at it, to discover the underlying Social Action web site and its API. The Challenge was about using this API for a new innovative web application or widget. For some reason this appealed to me, although I generally do not participate to such contests. There was a money prize too, but that was not my  motive:  I would never agree to receive a monetary prize from a socially oriented initiative, only because it would be better spent if it were spent on its very cause.

The Change the Web Challenge
I have to admit that I was hasty in my decision on how to participate and what to build: I did not  look anything else apart from the API itself. I ended up paying in hard currency for this haste: lot of wasted time! Because, I, almost from the first moment, resolved in building a WordPress plugin with the Social Actions API.
I started coding and in a couple of days I was done only to find out that the Social Actions site already had such a plugin, a very well written one and definitively much better than mine.
Almost in panic, because the time was running out, I started thinking what could I build instead. I turned down the option of building a better plugin, because it was not only a matter of quality, but of originality too.
My mistake made me research better what was already in place and found that web site widgets were rather abundant. Except.. Except for where javascript, iframe and flash widgets are not allowed to run.

I remembered then the days I was trying to circumvent this limitation by employing Yahoo Pipes and the WordPress RSS widget. I did not find something similar revolving around the social actions API, and, despite this being a pretty simple solution (even though it took me a lot of hours to remember how pipes worked and catch up with the new features), I found it appealing since it would potentially be useful to the 7mio or so users. So I built a pipe which could be configured by users to retrieve actions theiy were interested in, in the form of an RSS feed (you can see it in action in the bottom of the sidebar of this blog) .

I  barely  had finished when I discovered that even this was not a good plan because Wordpess had committed to adopt the best plugin the challenge produced! This rendered my pipe obsolete and there was no time to go back in rebuilding my plugin. I did then what I should have done from the very beginning: looked at the ideas people had already posted in the relevant page and noticed that some kind of map would be a nice thing to produce.

With a few additions to the pipe and thanks to the Pipes Location Extractor, I managed finally to pull out something. Not much, but something.


Leasons learned

Thinking back my  experience, I realized that the whole thing looked pretty much as a  failed  startup.

I made the mistakes I wouldn’t have made if I was starting a business: I did not make a proper market research, I did  not check  what the users really desired, I ignored the opportunities and the threats… In sort, I got myself entangled in programming instead of building a product. How many such startup efforts had I scoffed in the past?

One step ahead.

From startups, my thought  jumped to social entrepreneurship only to realize the obvious: whatever you build,  the rules are the same. It is just the kind of returns that differ. In social entrepreneurship it’s not about making money. It’s about making a difference, aiding people and, ultimately, changing the world.

The new 80/20 rule

One more step ahead.

If social entrepreneurship mechanics are the same  with pro profit entrepreneurship why people who are experts in these mechanics do not do both? The easy answer is that entrepreneurs are mobilized by greed and not by human solidarity.

But I believe the truth is different. They just haven’t thought  about it!

I know many people that could do both and if they don’t, it is because they focus relentlessly on the success of their pro profit efforts and spend all their time there. And for some stages of entrepreneurship this is not only inevitable, but a prerequisite.

But then, there are so many other people that have tasted success, have turned into angel investors, have embarked on a second, or third or forth startup effort, while their bank account  has enough for the rest of their lives.

What if these people applied to themselves the famous 80/20 Google rule?

80% of their time and effort spent on their pro profit ventures and 20% on social entrepreneurship.

Think of the vast amount of talent, genious, power, skill and  resources that would go into this 20%. I am convinced that even a fraction of it would suffice to change the world.

Meeting Jason

Yesterday I met Jason Calacanis. He was attending the Stream 2008 unconference in Athens,Greece  and the opportunity was ideal.
The meeting wasn’t by chance though. I learned about his coming through some Twitter friends and sent him an email asking for an interview.
He counter proposed that I should go to Stream and videotape the whole session he would be leading on Friday afternoon.
It didn’t take long for me to agree. I run there with my colleague Spyros, and recorded the whole session, plus an extra 10 minutes interview.

These are the two videos that follow. People interested in startups, especially now, under the heavy shadow of the looming financial crisis, should definitely watch the first one, where Jason relates his recent experiences from the Techcrunch50 event.In brief, the things covered are the following:

  • Observations and conclusions from Techcrunch50
  • zero cost startups and microfinancing
  • zombie startups
  • the end of servers
  • venture investment in the form of hosting
  • oversourcing of crowds
  • countries that generate startups: US, Israel, Korea, Japan and China.
  • risk aversion and role of negative press in Europe

The bullets might look a bit cryptic, but watch the video and you’ll understand.

The sound is a bit harsh in the first video as there is a lot of background noice (mostly coming from the air conditioning), but voices are audible.

The second is a bit more personal as Jason talks about his Greek roots and Mahalo.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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