Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Which dog is wagging
that "Long Tail" ?

There's a provocative post at O'Reilly Radar called "The Economics of Disaggregation" that provides links to some potent arguments about the conventional wisdom about how aggregators (Yahoo, Google) benefit more than producers of content (you).

It starts with this sobering synopsis of the argument from Slate, including this:

Fresh thinking about what ails newspapers arrived in yesterday's (Nov. 29) Wall Street Journal, where staffer William M. Bulkeley contributed a column titled "The Internet Allows Consumers to Trim Wasteful Purchases." Bulkeley explains how the photographic film industry, encyclopedia publishers, the music industry, and the advertising industry feasted on buyers by forcing them to purchase things they didn't want—prints of all 24 shots from their camera or a whole album to secure one favorite song, for example. "The business models required customers to pay for detritus to get the good stuff," Bulkeley writes. But digital cameras, the Web, iTunes, and search-related advertising have stripped those industries of their power to charge for detritus.

Bulkeley could have easily applied the wisdom of his lesson more broadly to newspapers. It's not that the complete gestalt of local, state, national, and international news plus sports, comics, classified, opinion, and hints on fashion, home, entertainment, and food isn't still useful. It is. But given a choice, and the economic means to make a choice, many buyers prefer to make an unbundled purchase. Unbundling the news they want from the news they don't want is what the Web allows readers to do now.

Also linked from O'Reilly are alternative points, mainly arguing that while consumers may benefit from disaggregation, that's not the aggregators' intention: they just wanna make money. And in a capitalist economy, somebody will.

One lesson for us is unassailable: nobody has to come to newspapers for a one-size-fits-all news/reader experience nowadays. We have to build audiences in many ways, on multiple platforms, through varied channels. People who come upon your information via search engines may never even see your home page, much less your newspaper. But we have to make that info useful for them, and make them valuable to some advertiser.
–Howard Weaver


  1. A week or so ago the online folks gave me the secret password to get into the Web site that tracks traffic on modbee.com. I was surprised to see how many people rely on bookmarks to go to the precise spot they prefer, bypassing the home page.

    The upside: lots of people head right to local news, the crime briefs, and high school sports. Having this kind of data is extremely useful.

    If somebody could design an eyeball-tracking chip to embed in newsprint, we'd really have something.

  2. On the printed page, newspapers are the ultimate mass medium. On the Web, we can provide massively narrow niches.

    For example, since July 1996, the Tri-City Herald has written hundreds of stories on Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton found a few miles from the paper. By themselves, the stories are scattered throughout our pages and make up a tiny percentage of the words we print. But collectively, we have covered the bones, their meaning and the decade of legal battles surrounding them better than anyone else on Earth. People who never heard of Kennewick Man last week can learn everything about him today, thanks to our newspaper.

    As a result, we have our local audience that is keenly (or passively) interested in what's happening in this community - and we have an international audience that couldn't care less about the accident that tied up traffic yesterday but is desperately fascinated with the ancient bones.

    This isn't disaggregation.

    This is opportunity.