More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About The Economics Of The Online News Business -- A TWEETIFESTO

henry blodget

Yesterday, a Reuters blogger named Felix Salmon attacked Business Insider for, in effect, producing content that readers want to read.

Felix didn’t put it that way, of course, but he does seem to feel that a publication’s writers and columnists should not be concerned with whether readers actually want to consume the content they produce.

We, needless to say, disagree.  We exist for you and because of you.  And if you don’t want to consume the content we produce, we can only conclude that it’s because we’re doing a lousy job.

Felix’s views are shared by some journalists who work in mainstream media organisations, where there is still a lot of money coming in from old business models and where long, text-heavy content is the primary storytelling form (And no wonder: Newspapers sell more ads when they fill more pages, so stories run long).  This is especially true at Reuters, of course, where the bloggers’ salaries are paid by a massively profitable global trader-information terminal that Wall Street folks pay thousands of dollars a month for — a terminal business that, by the way, the bloggers’ efforts don’t help in any way.

Let me be the first to tell you that we would LOVE to have a multi-billion-dollar global trader-terminal business to fund our online news operation.  It would make life a lot easier and more luxurious.  We hope to someday have a business like that.  As yet, we don’t. 

More importantly, we also think Felix’s criticism of our content is grossly unfair.  We’re publishing a huge amount of content that is exactly what he thinks we should be producing — long, text-heavy analysis, original reporting, and commentary.  Some examples from just the past few days:

  • An analysis of the future of Microsoft’s search engine Bing
  • An analysis of the stock market’s nutty valuation
  • The reaction from the NYT’s newsroom to the huge raise Arthur Sulzberger just gave himself
  • An investigation into why an actor is publicly humping the stock of a dubious oil company
  • The outing of a scammy company running a scammy ad on CNBC
  • A report on the real reason so many top execs are leaving Yahoo
  • A report on Google’s double-standard on censoring content for oppressive governments
  • An original guide to acing your next presentation
  • An exclusive ranking of the world’s best business schools
  • An analysis of which startup is winning the location-based war
  • An analysis of the real reason so many wireless carriers are adopting Google’s Android
  • A report on the legal attack the opponents of healthcare reform are mounting in the courts

And that’s just from our (unbelievably dedicated) full-time staff.  It excludes our market commentary, as well as the many excellent visual and quantitative features we produce, which our readers love (Check out this cool look at some of the world’s most luxurious train trips, for example, which was a huge hit yesterday).  We also are fortunate to have dozens of excellent contributors, and we’re adding more all the time.  And in addition to producing stories like the ones above, we highlight, link to, comment on, and/or analyse more than 75 other important business stories every single day.

In short, if long, text-heavy content were the only thing that our readers really wanted to read, we’d produce even more of it.  (In fact, it’s safe to say it would be all we produce).  But it isn’t.  It’s the mix of content that readers love, and we’re proud as hell of ours.

After listening to Felix’s views about how we should be running our business, it occurred to me that maybe one reason he feels that way is that he doesn’t understand the economics of it.  So, yesterday evening, while my kids squabbled over the screen angle of Lord Of The Rings in the back seat of our car, I addressed that topic in a short Tweetifesto (my wife was driving, thankfully).

You can click through it here, in handy one-thought-per-page bites >

You can scroll through it by clicking the handy link to the right that says “View As One Page” >

Here's that exchange, by the way. I'll include another link to it at the end.


* This tweet, by the way, was expressed badly. Several Tweetifesto listeners saw it as my taking credit for the success of our writers. I didn't mean it that way at all.

What I was trying to express was that, if you work for a site like The New York Times, which gets millions of direct visits per month, you'll generate tens of thousands of pageviews merely from being published by the New York Times. This has always been true for big publications -- there's nothing new about it. But it shouldn't go to the head of NYT writers who have huge influence and readership merely because they work for the Times.

And this is not to say that some writers don't have a huge number of readers who couldn't care less where they are published and only care about reading them. Some writers do have this -- to their complete credit. And one of the things that is great about the online medium is that it gives these writers more power. Speaking as a writer in addition to editor and executive, more power for writers is very good.

And now, if you'd like to catch up on some earlier fisticuffs, here's what you missed...

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