New Organizations, New Relationships

Posted on 19. Aug, 2009 by in Hyperlocal, New News Organization, Revenue

We’ve heard a lot about our forecasts for advertising revenues in the New News Organization this week (mostly asserting that our cpm and penetration assumptions are too optimistic). But, it seems our other goal–to envision a sustainable business built on a diversity of revenues–has been largely overlooked.

In fact, in year three of our NNO model, advertising accounts for 57%, or $11 million, of the $20 million in total revenue. The rest, or $8.6 million, comes from new business opportunities that have been so often neglected by existing media companies (or discounted because they were too expensive to develop in an era when margins on advertising were fat). In most cases, these new opportunities will require news organizations to forge new relationships with their readers and with the advertisers and businesses they serve, and to rethink some of the news content they provide.

We’ve written about a number of e-commerce opportunities already. We spoke with the Telegraph about their efforts to sell products in a contextualized format, taking fees for selling tickets and sports betting (there has even been chatter recently that legalized betting might help save the news industry). We’ve estimated just over $35,000 in annual revenue from ticket sales in our model. As Steve Buttry points out, we can go much further: obituaries are an opportunity to sell flowers and college football games are an opportunity to provide access to restaurant reservations before or after.

We also think that the advertising arm of the business should invest in training and/or consulting local businesses in online advertising and marketing. That service could bring in $480,000. Building a business-to-business marketplace where local entrepreneurs can list sales and post and reply to RFPs, could earn nearly $1.5 million in annual revenues by year three.

Hosting events is another item. Folks like the Voice of San Diego and Brooklyn Based say they view offline events as a new way to present their journalism. But, they can also serve as an important source of revenues, indeed events account for most of Brooklyn Based revenues. Events for readers could generate $330,000 by our estimates, and business-to-business conferences another $1.2 million annually.

Behind all of these ideas is the need for the new news organization to provide services to businesses and readers where they need them. As Steve Buttry pointed out to me today, in most cases, news organizations already collect highly valuable data, so all they need to do is figure out how to maximize that value for customers or businesses. In some areas the content itself might need to be reworked. He explained:

Perhaps the best example of thinking differently is in driving. Our automotive vertical is based on a job (buying a car) that most people do once every few years, so it’s not a routine and we don’t have a regular way that we do it. So it was easy for specialized car sites to steal the business away. But driving is a local job that most of us do every day. So if we develop a service based around driving, people will come to us every day. And that gives us an opportunity to become essential with some businesses that are not as big advertisers for newspapers (tire shops, auto-repair shops, auto insurance, etc.). And if we think beyond selling eyeballs, and think beyond print and start using the tool that most of us always carry in our cars, the model becomes entirely different. We think about being the conduit for text messages from motorists needing repairs today to garages with openings today. Filling that bandwidth has tremendous value to the business and identifying someone who can repair the car has tremendous value to the consumer. Win-win. (And, by the way, if you’re a car dealer and someone in your community develops a service like this, where do you think they will look first when they’re ready to trade up? So you’d better advertise there, too.)

Lastly, it’s important to make a point about the changes we think are coming in advertising. We’ve outlined new advertising units and ways to deliver them, including coupons and deals delivery, and we put them as separate line items in our model. But, it seems clear that advertising on the web will increasingly move towards the deals/coupon model eventually replacing display ads at nearly all levels. Online ads want to be transactional. We’ve already seen this with the launch of AnnArbor.com, which only publishes deals. The role for the news org going forward is to build a platform that serves the right ads to readers (much like it will need to serve the right news content). Also, the org will need to serve its advertisers better by working with them to develop messages and campaigns that work. It’s simple really, if they don’t do this in a pay-for-performance model, the advertisers will go elsewhere.

Not all of these ideas will pan out in all markets, or for all organizations. But it seems high time to give any idea with even a bare chance of succeeding a try. (The New Business Models for News Project has been funded by the Knight Foundation.)

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