Newspapers, advertising, and syndication

As a consequence of reading my referral logs again, I found this reaction to my off the cuff thoughts on newspapers and syndication. At the time (a week ago), I wrote “why don’t the newspapers go out and build their own RSS feeds to share–why do sites like NewsIsFree and Moreover have to do it for them? Seems to me they could disintermediate these guys in a heartbeat.”

I’ve thought a bit more about the issue since then. I think I overestimated newspapers and underestimated syndicators like Newsisfree. The business of newspapers, after all, is by most measures to sell advertising, not news (in 1998 the average revenue for a newspaper the size of the Boston Globe was 70% advertising, 30% subscription and sales). And services like NewsIsFree do provide a valuable service. Right now my subscriptions pick up tons of multiple references to the same story. More than can really be processed. News junkies and slaves to accuracy probably would want to check every story, but most normal human beings don’t have time to check everything.

I do want to ask one question back to the guys at NewsIsFree. Their pointer sounded a little pissed off and distressed: “would any one in their right mind want to go through the painful and boring job of maintaining scrapers and fighting with ever changing HTML formating? And for what? So that other people can just grab our feeds, realize how cool the IHT’s articles are, and somehow forget about us.” It’s an interesting question: once people have used a service to find the information they’re looking for, will they ever return to the service? Should they “forget” about the service provider? Leave out the “right and wrong” tone implied by NewsIsFree’s post; do consumers behave this way?

Well, thinking about myself and Google, I come back once I’ve found what I’m looking for–every day. Same with Blogdex. The trick is to provide enough value each time someone comes back to make it worth their time–the incremental value has to be greater than the incremental transaction cost.