FT is giving away its content and selling its context

Mitch Ratcliffe notes that the Financial Times has made much of its subscription-only content available free to users of Yahoo and MSNBC. The FT is arguably one of the few global print brands that should be able to charge for its content.

Mitch wonders whether the message is that the future belongs to syndication, rather than subscriptions. The problem, as Mitch concedes, that the revenues from syndication would maybe cover the cost of a single reporter.

This story may also demonstrate the value of context. Is FT content presented in an FT-only context worth more than FT content presented in a Yahoo context?

Is charging for content a sign of maturity or senility?

Print publishers are clearly moving once again in the direction of charging for content. More publishers are willing to stand up and say that content should no longer be free. And ome publishers are taking the half-assed measure of charging for “premium” content or archives.

Not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid. Plenty of publishers still stand by free content and free archives. Knight-Ridder is making money with free news. The San Francisco Chronicle still doesn’t charge for archives. As the online advertising market picks up and the paid content market stagnates, these companies are going to put some space between themselves and those who want to charge for news. I’ll have more to say soon about why charging for archives is dead wrong.

Peter Krasilovsky of Borrell Associates make the point that the Internet is a disruptive technology. He’s right, and every publisher who has read Clay Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma knows it. Christensen tells us that disruptive technologies are about more than cost reduction.

Disruptors have entirely new cost structures. Online publishers have no unions; no capital tied up in real estate, vehicles, and printing presses; no demands from shareholders for 25% profit margins; and no per-reader delivery costs.

Disruptors don’t simply take market share. They create new markets. You can’t defeat a disruptor by bundling print with online, bring your print advertisers to the net, or using the Internet to serve your existing readers. The Net fragments and aggregates markets. Metro dailies are not only competing with national publishers, but with community and neighborhood micropublishers.

Disruptors change the way we think about the relationship between price and performance. Publishers may think that you get what you pay for with a free Weblog. But the time spent reading blogs comes out of somebody’s readership. Why are we seeing more publishers charging just as blogging becomes both a threat and an opportunity?

Christensen advises that companies under attack from disruptors have two options: create your own disruptor or buy one.

But whatever you do, don’t try to compete by using your core business as a base of operations. That’s a losing strategy, and that’s what’s behind the renewed drive to charge for content online.

Slate's making money

Slate took in more money than it spent last quarter. That doesn’t mean they’ve paid back the $20 million that Microsoft invested in them or justified all the free promotion that MSN gave them, but it’s great news for a number of reasons.

  • It’s remarkable that they did it in the very slow first quarter of the year. That bodes well for them as the online ad market warms up.
  • Microsoft is a lot less likely to pull the plug at some point now that they’re not losing more money every day they operate.
  • They did it by producing thoughtful content.
  • It gives us some hope that Salon will be able to make it past their current difficulties.
  • This should give some encouragement to those who believe that we’ll all be better off if Web content is free.

Congratulations, Slate!

Are WSJ Online subscriptions peaking?

According to Dow Jones, subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal Online increased 5.5% to 675,000 in the last year.

While this is a pretty good rate for a financial site in the midst of a recession, it is certainly slower than the forecast growth in online content and services in general, or perhaps even the potential growth in online advertising this year.

The Journal seems to be seeking new revenue with special editions of the site. We can probably expect them to be more creative an aggressive about generating revenue in 2003.

The browser of tomorrow will be…a browser

In observance tenth anniversary of Mosaic, I got an email from a reporter asking me what I thought about the future of the browser. It got me thinking.

Why can’t the browser just be a browser?

We’re still paying for Netscape’s hubris and poor strategy, long after the company ceased to exist for all practical purposes. They tried to replace the entire operating system with a browser, and their browser still contains too much stuff. There was a while there when Netscape employees actually weren’t allowed to use the word “browser”.

We’d all be better off Netscape hadn’t started the tradition of junking up the browser with an email client, address book, WYSIWYG HTML editor, IM client, “push” client, multiple sluggish and unnecessary software platforms (java, javascript, XUL, whatever Microsoft is pushing this year), and lots of advertising buttons and links.

The future of the browser is in being a better browser. There’s plenty to do just in being fast, standards-compliant, and easy to use. Opera is leading the way. Camino has turned Netscape’s rendering software into its first decent browser since 1996. Safari confirms that the best bower is just a browser.

The most important innovations in browser design advance simplicity and ease of use. Until Camino introduced tabbed browsing and storing ID/password combinations securely with the Mac’s keychain, the most important innovation was forms autofill, which is at least five years old. Safari’s most important innovation is that it is (astonishingly) the first browser to have decent bookmark management.

The browser of the future will:

  • Render pages instantly and more consistently with other browsers
  • Have tabbed browsing, better bookmark management, and password management
  • Give the user total control of popups and advertising
  • Give the user total control of his cookies

Browsers need to support improvements in document structure, such as XML for content and CSS for markup. But these formats shouldn’t be developed by the people who create the browser. We need to eliminate proprietary formats and I’d be happy with eliminating Flash. Apparently, Flash is so awful even Macromedia’s customers don’t want to see it on their home page. It’s mainly used to make ads more noticeable by making them annoying and any information that might happen to be in a Flash file can’t be found on Google.

In many applications, the browser should be invisible, simply rendering HTML for applications like email and help.

The browser is not be the best client for cell phones. The more I use RSS, the more clear it becomes to me that RSS is a superior format for picking news sources, reviewing headlines, and reading stories. Real estate on a cell phone is too precious to waste on anything but the most concentrated information. Others may believe that RSS aggregation belongs in the browser, but it’s already in Netscape and no one’s using it.

Too many users (and businesses) make the mistake of thinking the browser should be the only interface to the Internet. The web is not the Internet, and the browser is not always the best way to use it. IM and P2P are proof that we need more clients (not fewer) if we’re going to take advantage the Net. Why implement an application with Java in a browser when you can create a standalone application?

The website of the future will help make this happen by

  • Permitting full use by any browser (not just IE)
  • Permitting browsing with Javascript turned off
  • Using more standard HTML and CSS
  • Using fewer tables
  • Using no Flash
  • Providing usable RSS for anyone who wants it
  • Not using Java unless there really is no other way to solve a problem

Overture is contemplating a partnership with Gator, the most-hated company on the Net

Just in case you needed to be reminded about the difference between Google and Overture, Overture is contemplating selling ad results to Gator for distribution in their Search Scout software. Overture says,

“I understand that you may have some concerns about Gator. There has been a lot of recent media coverage about “spyware,” “scumware,” or applications that embed themselves into an Internet user’s browser and possibly track online behavior. Overture has evaluated Gator’s practices and determined that they are not consistent with what the media defines as “spyware.”

I’m a big believer that lightweight advertising placed in an appropriate context. “Lean-media advertising” will be an important revenue source for legitimate content sites.

But Gator is the perhaps the most-hated company on the Internet for a good reason. They exploit the limitations of Microsoft Windows to install unwelcome advertising spyware on people’s computers and sell those people to their advertisers. Overture (formerly Goto.com) has bought a measure of legitimacy through sheer profitability, a more-dignified name, and the acquisition of some powerful search brands. But a deal with Gator would pretty much put the torch to that.

Perhaps they don’t understand how fragile an Internet brand can be.[Thanks, Marketingfix]

On war

I’ve tried to avoid political and personal posts on this site, mainly because I’m trying to focus it. But current events are so pressing that I don’t believe it’s a moral decision not to declare yourself. I don’t know whether we should attack Iraq or not, but I do believe that we have subverted the Constitution before and after the last election and in the months following September 11, 2002.

In any event I found the following thought-provoking and insightful.