New business models for journalism – CUNY provides plenty of numbers

So, students at CUNY have delivered their much-awaited New Business Models for journalism – four in total, that aim to answer “What happens to journalism in a top-25 metro market if a newspaper fades away. Can journalism be sustained? And how?”

The post introducing the models is surprisingly succinct: the real work has gone into 3 spreadsheets which are linked to under each heading (there are only 3 as 2 of the business models have been presented together).

Each model has a separate post which is equally succinct, but invite comments. They are:

Much credit goes to CUNY. Although this has the luxury of being funded by the Knight and McCormick Foundations, it is always going to attract much criticism. And I’m not going to shy from being critical: I’m disappointed.

Why? Well, the first 2 (combined) models are pretty old-school, being solely based on advertising. The innovation, it seems, comes from a networked approach to selling that and in production – but I can’t help feeling it overlooks one of the core problems presented by the web: reduced advertising spend over a much larger number of sites where audiences are valued more cheaply. (Note: Matthew Sollars responded: “We’re assuming conservative advertising revenue (and other rev streams). Online only pub with occasional print eds.”)

New News Organisation

Moving onto the New News Organisation, this is more promising. Advertising features largely again, but now there are business-to-consumer and business-to-business services. These include text alerts, events and conferences, themed issues, coupons, iPhone apps and a donation service for watchdog journalism.

What I can’t find is the logic behind these figures – now that would be really interesting. (UPDATE: It seems I’m not the only one; TechCrunch report on the livestream from Jeff Jarvis after the figures were published: “Everyone from Esther Dyson to Michael Kinsley and Marissa Mayer pointed out at the forum, the numbers don’t look very realistic.”)

The other issue, which I wouldn’t have expected CUNY to address, is that their idea of a metro market for this new news organisation is an adult population of 5million. That’s the equivalent of London, so by that reasoning the Evening Standard (which only recently decided to stop claiming to be a national newspaper) is the only newspaper in the UK with an equivalent ‘local’ market. So it’s hard to see how these figures might work in the UK.

Also, I’m somewhat baffled by the projected margins of 29% by year 3 – those are the sorts of margins news organisations enjoyed during the ‘print bubble’© and led to the sort of debts and shareholders that have been just as problematic as advertisers. I’m not sure that those are sustainable and would suggest allocating some of that money into investments that prepare for the next big disruption. (Note: Matthew Sollars responded: “We weren’t aiming at 29% margins, that’s what we believe the market will bear for lean, online news orgs”)


Finally, the not-for-profit, based on a combination of foundation support, advertising and corporate support, fundraising and membership, and e-commerce. One thing that stands out for me is that website development costs are static at $150,000 every year – experience suggests this should be heavily increased in the first year, but that’s a small point. 

Again, the really interesting thing is missing: how did they arrive at these figures? (Note the spreadsheets have a number of sheets that drill down into detail – it’s worth spending some time exploring that.)

So, lots of numbers, lots of questions, lots of missing back-story, but in the end this is far more developed than anything I’ve seen in this area. Journalists hate spreadsheets – so here’s a great place to start getting used to them. And let me know what you find.


10 thoughts on “New business models for journalism – CUNY provides plenty of numbers

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  2. Damian Ghigliotty

    Hi Paul. Thank you for showing interest in our work.

    We are in the process of highlighting the most vital numbers and providing some of the missing back-story through individual posts.

  3. jeff mignon

    Hope people are going to be more specific than “don’t look very realistic”. Please explore the spreadsheet and tell us where it is not realistic. We want to improve this work with your help.

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