Skoeps.nl, a citizen-journalism venture, closed down last week after its owners declared it unprofitable. The business plan seemed simple enough to succeed:
- Find loads of money,
- Advertise massively, and
- Share advertising and syndication revenue with writers.
The plan worked, except that there wasn’t enough revenue to share. Skoeps cash-flow was in the black, which means that, if investors refused to go forward, growth must have been minimal and could not have offset the initial investment in the near future.
They planned on giving €500,000 away to contributors in 2008. Despite what should have been a market-killing proposition, they failed to come up with compelling content and raise their game to the level of the national, widely-known media brands.
Among the reasons why people become journalists, ‘to save the world’ probably ranks first, closely followed by ‘to fulfill my attention deficit disorder’. Only at the very bottom will you find ‘to earn big bucks’. In all likelihood, non-professional content producers (yes, that’s the politically correct term for ‘citizen-journalists’) think the same.
It seems that web-users will devote time and efforts to giving away content to a platform only if they have the promise of a large enough audience to listen to them. Poland’s leading citJ website, Wiadomosci24, and its contender Moje Miasto (My Town), are lead by the two main media groups, Polskapresse and Mecom. They both make intensive use of the synergies between pro and amateur, mass and specialized channels. Polskapresse, for instance, advertise the site in the group’s papers and promising contributors a space in the print edition.
Even pure players seem to follow this trend. Despite $10m in Series A funding, NowPublic still sees no need to pay writers. A debate on the site as to how to share advertising revenue was superbly ignored by the community. Only 8 writers took part in the conversation. Their deal with AP is their best USP.
When monetization comes into play, open-pricing is the best option. The average donation stands at $4 on average. Instead of working on increasing page views, writers would focus on increasing the give-through-rate, so that they will try to provide content the audience deems worthy.
Non-professional contributions only add value if they have a unique edge against the mass. John, 34, from Westmoreland, TN, writing about the Middle-East conflict is useless. The same user writing about the tornado is priceless. The BBC does that brilliantly with the discreet box they put at the end of hot stories.
That’s why Steve Boriss announced the end of citizen-journalism. Journalism will increasingly be a job of connecting and editing contributions from the right experts. Whether this will be better done by humans or by Google is another matter.