A New Model for Online Publishing — The Keiretsu-Cooperative: An OII Issue Brief

Cheryll Barron has written a new OII Internet Issue Brief (No. 4), entitled ‘The Keiretsu-Cooperative: a Model for post-Gutenberg Publishing’, which is available online at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1532173 It is an imaginative proposal for a new business model to support publishing in the digital age. Cheryll has written about computers, culture and society for the Economist, Salon, and the New York Times, putting her in the thick of journalism and the online world. Her issue brief is followed by responses from four major authorities, namely:

Bill Emmott, under whose leadership The Economist doubled its circulation between 1993 and 2006, is also the author of eight books, including Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade (2008).

David Goodhart started the current affairs magazine Prospect in 1995, after working as a senior correspondent for The Financial Times, and continues to serve as its editor.

Godfrey Hodgson, who often blogs for the e-zine openDemcracy.net, was director of the Reuters’ Foundation Programme at Oxford University. He has also been the Observer’s correspondent in the United States and foreign editor of the Independent. He is the co-author (with Lewis Chester and Bruce Page) of the best-selling account of the 1968 presidential campaign, An American Melodrama (1969). His other books include More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the new century (2006).

Dr Frances Pinter is the publisher of Bloomsbury Academic, and is the former publishing director of the Soros Foundation, where she ‘directed major projects aimed at reforming publishing in Central & Eastern Europe.’ She has been a pioneer in offering libraries inexpensive digital access to thousands of learned journals. At twenty-three, she founded Pinter Publishing. (An OII Webcast of Frances Pinter’s talk on the transformation of publishing in the Internet age is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about this area.)

Through this blog, or your own outlets, I hope you will add your comments on this issue brief and the responses. My hope is that this brief will stimulate and inform more discussion of innovative business models for online publishing.

My thanks to Cheryll Barron, Bill Emmott, David Goodhart, Godfrey Hodgson, and Frances Pinter for their views on one of the most critical issues facing online publishing – the need for new business models.

Regards,

Bill

4 thoughts on “A New Model for Online Publishing — The Keiretsu-Cooperative: An OII Issue Brief

  1. Posted by Bill with the permission of Robert Taylor:

    Dear Director Dutton,

    This idea is intriguing. I like innovations that support transparency and democracy as this one appears to do.

    I would appreciate clarification on two points. Would bloggers be paid for their comments/posts in a keiretsu-cooperative? Would bloggers who do not pay for a subscription be denied the opportunity to comment on the site?

    Regards,
    Robert Taylor

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  2. Reply to Robert Taylor, from Cheryll Barron (posted by Bill)

    Taking your second question first: no, absolutely not, because inclusion and not exclusion is at the heart of this idea. Since the scheme is for a cooperative, a ‘subscription’ would really be a tiny stake or share – or ‘stock’, as Americans prefer to say. So a blogger paying for such a stake might, somewhere down the road, share in profits the site would generate – and have a vote in joint decision-making. Bloggers who don’t subscribe would not.

    Your first question, now: some bloggers collectively deemed to be valuable to a keiretsu-cooperative site might be paid for their contributions. Different sites would make different rules, on this point.

    Overall, a keiretsu-cooperative site would supplement, in the medium-term – and could conceivably replace, in the long-term – the advertising-dependent business model on which traditional media depend today.

    It’s a way of generating a pool of revenue that would benefit both the site’s administrators – the ‘brand name’ publishers collaborating in a keiretsu relationship – and the reader-blogger-commenters who become part-owners in a cooperative.

    P.S. It is an honour to answer these questions from J. C. R. Licklider’s collaborator on The Computer as a Communication Device (1968). Thank you, Robert Taylor.

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  3. Anonymous Comment, posted by Bill:

    I had first assumed that by “bloggers” you mean those who write blogs, not those who post comments. But on page 5, you lump them together in looking for recognition, money, etc.
    Page 6. Readers’ blogs would share the keiretsu partners’ site. Their ‘everyman’ sites would be scattered around the blogs, articles and multi-media offerings of professional writers and journalists. (4)

    Why do commenters deserve to get paid? Again, I’m the curmudgeon who sees absolutely no value in “readers’ blogs.” Why anyone cares about the opinions of “everyman” is a mystery to me.

    Readers’ blogs would have the same format—the ‘look-and-feel’ of the blogs and
    publications of ‘name’ writers to strengthen the bonds of their community. The talk of
    power-sharing as the essence of the new, post-Gutenberg era would begin to
    acquire substance.

    This makes me weep. A “reader” is in no way comparable to a paid journalist, let alone a member of the professional community.

    Page 7: The most striking differences between this model and those of other online
    publishing experiments and ventures that have been tried out so far are that (i) there
    would from the start be some revenue stream—one based on modest subscriptions;
    and (ii) bloggers with some prospect—even a distant one—of sharing in the profits of
    the collaboration would have a financial incentive to help to attract more mouse
    clicks.

    Newspapers are already cutting to the bone, so there’s not much revenue stream to share with anyone. Why lay off professionals and then pay amateurs?

    Subscriptions are a huge problem. The model for free internet access is already well-established. Why pay for a subscription when I can access most newspapers and magazines – and high-profile blogs like Huffington – for free?

    Page 7: From the standpoint of newspaper and book-readers of the past, what is most novel
    about the scheme … is that it permits their promotion from passive consumers to creators.

    I submit that few consumers could accurately be called “creators” and few are worthy of reading or paying.

    FAQs
    I admit it’s because of my own bias, but I would like to see proof that people are willing to pay for subscriptions to anything. One of the reasons I pay to read the NY Times is that I’m getting info from real journalists vs. a bunch of opinionated idiots.

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  4. Thank you, Anonymous, for expressing what most seasoned publishing professionals believe, but seldom say in public.

    I apologise for any confusion caused by the word ‘blogger’. That reflects uncertainty about usage. Dictionary.com says, under ‘blog’: ‘to write entries in, add material to, or maintain a weblog.’ I have often found ‘blogger’ used for anyone extending the blogs of _other_ people and institutions with their posts – so that that you and I can be bloggers here, posting on Bill’s blog, and also when we comment on articles on a newspaper’s site. I note that you have used ‘commenter’, which my Microsoft Word spell-checker rejects. Another example of a term evolving with the technology? (I recently came across, ‘Never book a room at the asylym [sic] with your crazy blogger/commenter,’ and Google just offered me 39,500 results for ‘blogger or commenter,’ many of them implying that the words are used interchangeably.)

    Should bloggers be paid? Please see my reply to Robert Taylor (above). . . You say that you have no interest in everyman’s opinions, but no one is forcing you to read them. Even when readers’ blogs share space on a site with the work of professional writers and journalists, you can ignore them. …Lots of us are grateful for the chance to supplement our usual reading with other people’s raw, unmediated texts – all their idiosyncrasies of thought and expression intact, and liberated from editorial prejudice and politics.

    You ask,

    ‘Newspapers are already cutting to the bone, so there’s not much revenue stream to share with anyone. Why lay off professionals and then pay amateurs?’

    I’ll preface the rest of my answer with a question of my own. If bloggers’ clicks are playing a growing part in keeping newspapers alive, and if sparkling and provocative posts attract clicks, don’t these commenters deserve some form of compensation?

    Again. please see my reply to Robert Taylor. . . . The keiretsu-cooperative is designed to _increase_ revenue for newspapers and other Old Media publishers. The clicks of bloggers and readers already mean more advertising, on newspaper sites, which means more and not less revenue. Then, what if – as my paper suggests – reader-blogger-commenters acquire small shares in a keiretsu-cooperative when they pay their subscriptions –? Another reason for seeing them as revenue-boosters rather than freeloaders and revenue-shrinkers, yes?

    Nowhere have I suggested that a keiretsu-cooperative publishing site would mean laying off ‘professionals’ to pay ‘amateurs’. . . . I am not sure why so many look on bloggers as rough beasts appearing as ‘anarchy is loosed upon the world’. Anyone can be a blogger. Prize-winning journalists and authors have been known to blog/comment pseudonymously – and frequently.

    A puzzle: why do you and so many other intelligent readers resist acknowledging that in addition to the ‘opinionated idiots’ among reader-blogger-commenters, there are others making the media more accountable? People taking journalists to task for sloppiness and laziness, and balancing editorial biases, when they expose these with evidence and well-reasoned arguments? … This grant by the Knight Foundation to a historian of blogging, Scott Rosenberg, recognises the fallibility of journalists: http://www.knightpulse.org/project/media-bugs

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