A new business model for news

Right now you can watch, live, Jeff JarvisNew Business Models For News Summit. Wish I were there, but I’m low on clones and have too much else to do.

But I can still make a point and point out what we’re already doing.

My point: We need a business model built on the customer side, the user side, the demand side. Not more and more models built on the supply side (most of which still come down to advertising and subscription). We need a model that creates and builds on relationship, and doesn’t just improve the transaction process.

We have that. Here’s what we’re already doing:

There’s more, and the first two of those are stale and need to be updated. But I wanted to at least point to those three items for now, while we’re busy working on a Knight NewsChallenge for a VRM project. More as we move downstream with that.


  1. Howard Owens

    See, http://www.thebatavian.com

  2. Josh

    Completely agree it is all about the customer. However, here’s the problem, and especially from a startup’s POV, it isn’t that easy to get the consumer to care. In fact, sometimes it makes things harder because you need to bring them into the process and build system to handle of that. Having said that, we are making an attempt at giving job seeker’s control of their information during the background screening/employment process. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you sell and make user centric services commercially viable because that is the only way to get to adoption.

  3. Doc Searls


    First, I prefer “user-driven” to “user-centric.” It’s a subtle but important distinction. We have to start with empowering individuals with tools they do not yet have — tools that give them power to drive business, and not just be driven.

    It was hard to get horse riders to care before we had cars, hard to get typists to care about word processing before we had PCs, and hard to get letter-writers to care about email before we had the Net.

    My point is that we lack the basic tools required to make consumers into customers. And that those tools aren’t going to be proprietary ones that come from just one source. What we’re doing with ProjectVRM is building tools that will turn consumers into fully empowered customers, and provide entrepreneurs with the basics required to start and expand countless new businesses built on increased power on the demand side.

    The Net was not itself a “commercially viable” thing until ISPs (the original ones, not the phone and cable companies, which picked up on the clues later) found ways to take the Net’s free and open protocols and put them to use.

    PayChoice, the r-button and the Mine! are all open and non-proprietary tools that will empower customers to relate to sellers in ways that were not possible before. That will in turn create an environment in which countless new businesses can grow. Those businesses will succeed because of those free and open tools. Not by selling them. Just like countless other businesses have succeeded because of the Net and the half-million free and open source code bases (plus open stardards and protocols), that now populate the technology world.

    This is why all these things are being led by a noncommercial project at a university, rather than by a commercial entity, even though there are smart and extremely helpful commercial entities involved. At its base, VRM needs to be NEA: nobody owns it, everybody can use it, and anybody can improve it. NEA infrastructure (like the Net, like Linux, like Apache) will guarantee maximum capacity to support countless new businesses.

    This is also why we’ve mostly been flying under the radar. VRM is new, and still has no prime-time examples in the commercial world. But it will. Count on it.

  4. Jonathan


    I may be missing it in the description, but I wonder if your notion of VRM for “news” is user-driven enough.

    From my reading of this post and the links you provided, it sounds like you’re mostly talking about ways that users can pay for free content and thus help content-makers (especially those in the long-tail) continue to make it.

    My gut is that too small percentage of users will feel enough affinity for the free content they consume on the Web to pay anything at all. And that’s not surprising at all, because this content is almost entirely ‘push,’ driven on what the writer wants to write/record, rather than by what the reader feels strongly that he needs to read/hear.

    Isn’t there an opportunity to use VRM tools that would enable users to deliberately capture, store and disseminate data on their strong unmet information needs? Could writers/producers be able to tap into this information in order to decide what topics might inspire passionate underserved audiences’ willingness to pay (or provide valuable information to advertisers)?

    This admittedly radical re-architecting of the editorial process would probably terrify most traditional news-people. They will envision a devolution from altruistically inspired journalism to (a) service articles and/or (b) politically-motivated hit pieces.

    But I doubt that’s all or even mainly what audiences want, and I don’t believe the news business can survive based on the intrinsic belief that their audiences want the wrong product.

    Anyway, just a thought…

  5. Doc Searls


    I wrote a long and thoughtful response to your comment, and it disappeared. I’m maxed right now, but will try again later. Sorry about that.

  6. Jonathan

    It will be worth the wait.

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