Doc Searls: don’t count on ads

Because I am always behind reading my feeds (aren’t you?) I only just read this post by Doc Searls from a week ago. Coming from a slightly different angle, using his increasingly valuable VRM argument, Doc’s “Toward a New Ecology of Journalism” arrives at a similar place to where I ended up earlier this week in the Times Select discussion:

…The larger trend to watch over time is the inevitable decline in advertising support for journalistic work, and the growing need to find means for replacing that funding — or to face the fact that journalism will become largely an amateur calling, and to make the most of it.

This trend is hard to see. While rivers of advertising money flow away from old media and toward new ones, both the old and the new media crowds continue to assume that advertising money will flow forever. This is a mistake. Advertising remains an extremely inefficient and wasteful way for sellers to find buyers. I’m not saying advertising isn’t effective, by the way; just that massive inefficiency and waste have always been involved, and that this fact constitutes a problem we’ve long been waiting to solve, whether we know it or not.

Google has radically improved the advertising process, first by making advertising accountable (you pay only for click-throughs) and second by shifting advertising waste from ink and air time to pixels and server cycles. Yet even this success does not diminish the fact that advertising itself remains inefficient, wasteful and speculative. Even with advanced targeting and pay-per-click accountability, the ratio of ‘impressions’ to click-throughs still runs at lottery-odds levels.

…The result will be a combination of two things: 1) a new business model for much of journalism; or 2) no business model at all, because much of it will be done gratis, as its creators look for because effects — building reputations and making money because of one’s work, rather than with one’s work. Some bloggers, for example, have already experienced this….

Just don’t expect advertising to fund the new institutions in the way it funded the old.

I think this is right, though the long-term-ness of the vision will have most hard-hearded business people smirking their disbelief as they point to corporate-media revenue numbers with long strings of zeroes dangling from them.

I also think that, frightening as it can look, this is ultimately a great opportunity for journalists. We have the chance to invent new ways to support our work — ways that don’t depend on the essential bait-and-switching of old-fashioned advertising.

We can also give up the contortions and distortions of the old-school “Chinese walls,” the barrier erected between the journalists who create the news reports that have value and the people who sell…other stuff that ends up paying the salaries of the journalists. In any case, I’ve long thought that this beloved wall — for all its ethical value, when it worked — had an insidious side-effect of allowing journalists to pretend that they weren’t working for businesses at all. This innocence (or naivete) has left many of them ill-equipped to do more than rend their garments as their industry undergoes slow-motion collapse.
[tags]vrm, doc searls, advertising, times select, future of journalism[/tags]

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