My first reactions to the Time magazine cover story could be read with a nice, tall glass of Haterade. “We know these new ideas can be bad,” you’re thinking. “Who’s going about it the right way?” Now, in no way am I aware of the financial stability of these three examples. However, as a consumer, I thoroughly enjoy their editorial products in various ways. And as someone who hopes to be paid for his writing/journalism work the rest of his life, I am encouraged by the possibilities these three editorial outfits present:
Baseball Prospectus – the subscription/”taste” model
My subscription to Sports Illustrated will end soon after the arrival of Bar Refaeli in my mailbox (what a way to go!). I pondered extending the subscription at reduced rates and with various “free” items tempting my postcard return. After going back and forth, my mind and wallet converged on the idea of consuming some of the interesting personality profiles and features online rather than in print at the low $20 annual rate.
Contrast this with my Baseball Prospectus subscription, at a cost of $35 annually. I made sure to re-up a few days in advance just to make sure I didn’t miss any articles during the heat of the September pennant race.
What is the difference? BP succeeds in offering a diverse, unique product that can’t be found easily anywhere else. As a hopelessly devoted baseball fan, I know where I can find good writing, reporting and analysis online about baseball. The best sports blogs stand as some of the strongest examples of where the fan can do a more engaging and entertaining job than an uninspired beat reporter. But BP stands out in a couple of ways:
- hiring skilled analysts who do this type of thing for a living (and do it well),
- proprietary information (such as stats) that can’t be found anywhere else,
- and aggregrating information (transaction analysis, injuries) in ways that save me time as a reader.
BP supplements its online model with an annual book, a couple of articles each week that show potential readers what’s available, chats, a free podcast called Baseball Prospectus Radio and some partnerships with other media outlets, like Sports Illustrated during the 2008 season. All these efforts strengthen the brand while working toward the business goal, which is to get you to subscribe. Other media outlets can look toward this model, but only in instances where you’ve got the goods to make it happen. This requires talent and carving out a unique niche in the marketplace that can’t be easily duplicated.
Baseball America – concurrent online/print subscriptions
If Baseball Prospectus “owns” the statistical analysis field (amid some worthy competitors), then Baseball America certainly owns the minor league and college baseball arenas. The baseball draft, long thought of as an afterthought when compared to pro basketball or football, has turned into BA’s busiest time of year in satisfying the information cravings of amateur baseball fans following their boys to pro ball and prospect hounds hoping to see their team land the stars of the future.
BA provides order (top 10 prospect lists, etc.) to a massive amount of information that accumulates each night from Kane County to Sacramento. And readers can get to some of that information via a couple of free blogs at baseballamerica.com. But the real product comes via online and print subscriptions. I haven’t crossed the threshold to subscribe just yet, but I appreciate the options of receiving the information via the Web only (at $66 annually) or both in print and online ($91.95 annually). This allows the publication, should the need arise, to transition into a potential online-only business model much easier than its publication competitors. As is, the site uses the blogs and a podcast to tease out some of its “money” features and never forgets where that bread gets buttered. And, having picked up the magazine at the bookstore, I know what I’m getting for free now is just the tip of their news coverage.
Baseball Musings – stop, aggregate and listen
But what about those lone wolf bloggers who want to make their own way? David Pinto shows one way how to do such a thing. He was one of the first baseball bloggers to successfully aggregate* content both from newspaper sites and blogs, and do it as a full-time profession. You can see his influence in sites like MLB Trade Rumors, that does the heavy lifting (compiling) in similar fashion.
And how does the site make money? One, you notice quite a few ads on Musings, especially compared to BP and BA. These click-throughs can add a few pennies to the coffers every time (like an ad-based form of the micropayment proposal). Still, as any Google AdSense participant knows, that won’t always pay the domain name bills. Pinto makes like public broadcasting and holds a pledge drive, which generated $3,600 in 2008. I read of a similar outreach effort at the Gannett Blog as it details the crumbling of that once-mighty newspaper empire. This concept most closely resembles the micropayment possibilities, but still relies on donations rather than mandatory payments.
*While time-strapped readers appreciate the efforts of these aggregators, the micropayment idea most likely would hurt their efforts. Not only would it be hard to figure out good stories to link to, but people could come to the site and not have to click on anything. While this probably appeals to some in the newspaper profession who don’t like the link culture, one wonders how it would affect traffic numbers.
Now, these are simplistic samples of business models. But all three derive much of their revenue from consumers rather than ad sales, and that seems to be the concept pushed as a solution to surviving economic downturns. But all three devote large amount of resources per employee to their editorial product, and all to reach a readership that will leave for other options if a better opportunity presents itself. My feeling is that many news organizations will splinter into niches they can own and aggregation for the consumer on the go (iPhone apps, headlines, etc.) This allows the product to be more nimble and authoritative in coverage, while making things easier for advertisers targeting markets that are increasingly elusive.