Umair Haque on ‘Nichepapers’

Umair Haque always talks intelligently about economics, and yesterday’s post ‘The Nichepaper Manifesto’ is well worth reading in full. Some choice quotes:

“Journalists didn’t make 20th century newspapers profitable — readers did. 20th century newspapers were never supernormally profitable because of what they wrote: it was the natural monopoly dynamics of classifieds that fueled massive margins.”

Note: those monopolies are going.

[Nichpapers reinvent what news is:] “Knowledge, not news. Newspapers strive to give people the news. Next stop, commodity central. Nichepapers strive to impart meaningful, lasting knowledge instead.

Commentage is the kid sister of reportage: it is the art of curating comments to have a dialogue with the audience — because the audience can fill gaps, plug holes, and thicken the foundations of knowledge. Many newspapers have comments — so what? Almost none are having a dialogue with commenters — who are mostly stuck in a twilight zone where they can only talk to one another. Nichepapers, in contrast, are always having deep dialogues with readers.

Note: this is because they understand that to do so is a) part of any good distribution strategy and b) delivers efficiencies in newsgathering.

Topics, not articles. That’s why Nichepapers develop topics — instead of telling quickly-forgotten stories. When Talking Points Memo exposed the Bush administration’s series of politically motivated firings, it did so in a series of posts, that let the story develop, surface, thicken, and climax. Stories are for information — topics are for knowledge.”

Note: Google likes topics better than articles, which is why a number of news websites are creating mini-sites around big stories and issues.

There’s a lot more in the full post, including 4 examples of ‘nichepapers’ currently operating, including Perez Hilton, Talking Points Memo and Huffington.

h/t Will Perrin

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5 thoughts on “Umair Haque on ‘Nichepapers’

  1. John Mecklin

    It’s almost always fun to read the unsupported pronouncements of the self-proclaimed Web expert. It’s the tone that’s immediately hilarious; it’s almost its own language. Call it digital-Godspeak. “I am the digital God. I have made an itemized list — Moses’ tablets, only in ones and zeros. These tablets of Haque, oh unenlightened denizens of the non-digital realm, explain precisely how everything is, and shall be henceforward. Ask not for evidence, mere facts! I am the digital God, and my opinions are facts, my lists self-proving, my commentage indisputable!”

    The non sequiturs are entertaining, too, though. “Stories are for information — topics are for knowledge.” Orwell ought to have said it.

    I’m not a particular fan of the average daily newspaper, and clearly part of the change to full electronic delivery will include improved quality and depth and tighter focus for the Web sites that deliver journalism/news. But the kind of cheerleading purveyed by the Nichepapers post obscures/ignores nuance and countervailing facts, including the almost certain reality that some (and perhaps most) major newspapers will make the transition to full digital delivery and continue to be leading sources for quality reportage and commentary. I love TPMmuckraker, but it’ll never replace the New York Times — or even be able to compete with it.

    Reply
  2. paulbradshaw

    And yet you don’t provide any evidence to support your own opinion? I agree the NYT and other news orgs will continue to exist – partly because others will not. But his core economic arguments: that news orgs were profitable because of the markets they occupied rather than just the content; etc. appear pretty solid. I’d be very interested in counter-arguments.

    Reply
  3. John Mecklin

    In terms of quality and target audience, newspapers have an enormous range, even in a single city. (Just look at the New York Times and the New York Post.) In business terms, newspapers have been run reasonably well, very poorly and everything between. All newspapers benefited from something of a monopoly in classified advertising terms (although that monopoly was breaking down even before Craigslist, via shopper publications and alt-weeklies). But the conceit that all newspapers exploited that partial monopoly by absolutely maximizing profits and minimizing journalistic quality and reader service, and all new digital sites are so much better in those terms (in the new world that only the digital priesthood can properly understand) is an absurd oversimplification. The associated financial conceit — that these lean, small, focused Web entities are the way of the future — is just as simple-minded, and perhaps just plain wrong. The Web sites Haque mentions make no or very little money. (Just try to get a straight answer about financial reality out of the Huffington Post people.) And many newspapers are profitable on an operating basis, even amid the worst recession in half a century.

    All I said in my original post, and all I’m saying now, is that the world and the World Wide Web are complicated places, and cheerleading via digital-Godspeak doesn’t usually come very close to explaining reality.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Umair Haque on charging online and a new business model « Fee or Free?

  5. Pingback: Nichepapers, micromedia—and journalism?

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