October 16th, 2008

Mainstream News Organizations Entering the Web’s Link Economy Will Shift the Balance of Power and Wealth

by

The New York Times published an article this week about mainstream news organizations embracing link journalism and news aggregation. Gawker and others scoffed that they are late to the game, which they are, but that misses (predictably) the BIG story.

If news orgs like the NYT, Washington Post, and hundreds of newspaper sites start linking to news and other content around the web in a big way, on their front pages (as the NYT plans) and across their sites, it will have a HUGE impact on the web’s link economy. These news orgs may have been slow to realize how linking drives content distribution and allocates attention and advertising wealth. But now that they’ve figured it out, they can completely disrupt the balance of power.

Yahoo became a huge force for driving traffic when it started featuring links from Yahoo Buzz on its homepage. Imagine the NYT, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and all of the mainstream news sites that still dominate news on the web all getting into the linking game.

Imagine the NYTimes.com homepage, like Digg, driving server-crashing volumes of traffic.

And imagine the impact on Google. Bloggers and other independent publishers determine so much of Google’s ranking because for the longest time they were the only ones who linked to anything — so those were the only links Google had to read.

But no more.

Here’s another major factor in this disruption of the web content ecosystem — the unwinding of the Associated Press. Today, Tribune became the first major newspaper chain to give notice to AP that they are canceling their contract.

Now imagine that instead of publishing commodity AP articles on their sites, every Tribune newspaper linked to national and international news from sources all over the web.

And now imagine that the audiences of these newspaper sites, many of whom may have little or no experience with news aggregation a la Digg, start clicking on all of these links.

Imagine if aggregation sites like Drudge and Digg, which remain locked in their niches, started to have competition from mainstream brands who put continuously updated news aggregations on their homepages.

Imagine the Washington Post’s Political Browser with a bigger audience than Drudge. (It’s no wonder that after the Post launched Political Browser their phone started ringing off the hook from people interested in receiving those links.)

It doesn’t matter if the 800 pound gorilla is late to the party — he’s still going to shake things up.

And for all the news orgs whose monopoly distribution business is rapidly declining, there’s a highly profitable distribution business on the web, driven by links, which has largely been conceded to one player. Time to steal some market share in the online content distribution market.

(Hint: Forget display ads, which are lame reproducitons of print display ads — that market is going nowhere. Focus on new models that align with the value of news aggregation.)

Last bit of imagining — imagine mainstream news organizations realize that economic power on the web is in networks, not the the monolithic monopolies that defined their analogu businesses, and that to build successful business on the web, they need to COLLABORATE. Yeah, I know that one is hard to imagine. But with the amount of disruption the media business is facing, news orgs may start figuring it out a lot faster.

  • Really interesting, it clearly opens a new way of monetization for newspaper and sure, it has to be built thinking of the better alignment between readers and advertisers value.

    But, by trying to monetize these links inside the articles, don't you think newspapers will loose a bit more independance from advertisers and credibility for readers ? I mean, the more the advertiser is integrated inside the article, the more the reader may feel there is a bias in the article writing. So newspapers may loose value from the reader point of vue...

  • The other thing to consider is stories that AP and others are now looking for fees for quoting stories with proper credits. The next logical step may be for them to try to capture fees for links. I remember not all that long ago links outbound from Drudge were like a game of Frogger as the links kept changing as the end source tried to prevent direct linking.

  • The only part of this article I'm not sure I agree with is the idea that Google's business model is easily mimicked by a web 2.0 company. I think Google is successful because of its close relation to an ecommerce transaction, while web 2.0 content is generally not trying to sell anything. Web 2.0 is rather more of an educate-help-entertain dialog between reader and publisher.

    I think the breakthrough business model for social media will be a paid interaction between reader and publisher.

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