Monday, 8 March 2010

Can journalists make money out of face time?

This is a tale of two Andy Bulls. One is an Australian pop star, the other is me. 
Pop star Andy makes his music available for download on the internet. That's him on the left. I don't look much like him. I suppose I might look something like his dad.

He is big on social media, with a Facebook page, a MySpace one and a Twitter account. Fortunately I got to the Twitter username andybull before he did, which means that, on occasion, I get a tweet like this: "OMG I just bought your new album." Or: 

My namesake has a new CD out, and he promotes it on social networks. I don’t know how much he expects to make from sales of his recorded music, but if he is like the average performer, it is not going to be the main part of his income. It’s much more likely that live performance earns pop star Andy his money.

Because the economics of the music industry have shifted. Once you toured at a loss to promote your records, which you made your money on. Now you pretty much give your music away in order to market your live performances.

In the music industry, they know that paywalls are exceedingly leaky things. Something maybe Mr Murdoch has yet to discover.

So what can journalists learn from the music industry? Can we do live performances?

I suspect most journalists’ immediate response will be no, obviously not. But let’s think about it. Because it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.

Let’s take B2B as a sector. It’s long been part of the model to have live events – from conferences and conventions to exhibitions and awards ceremonies. Indeed, there are titles where the print publication makes little, but the events connected to its brand name are comfortably profitable.

But is there more that can be done with this model? I ask because the subject came up twice last week when I was interviewing two B2B practitioners for my project: Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide.

One publishes business titles and spoke of how readers were very keen on face-to-face events at which they could meet industry movers and shakers, and that his titles were facilitating that as part of their business model.

Another, serving the drinks industry, said that his title had a club, limited to 200 prominent readers, who met quarterly to learn about the latest techniques for improving their businesses.

So it seems that, certainly in B2B, the face-to-face model can work. I suspect that brighter minds than mine will find many ways to make it work much more widely.

But how about consumer and general news media? Part of the Murdoch paywall initiative is a club for Times and Sunday Times readers which gives them benefits. Alongside the priority tickets and exclusive openings there are events featuring high profile journalists.

I’m not sure that would sway me to cough up, but let’s not knock it until they’ve tried it.

My MMJ project follows the face-to-face model. It’s a book, website and community. I’d like the book to sell some copies, and you need an access code found inside the shrink-wrapped book to get onto most of the accompanying website, and contribute to the community. However, it’s obviously going to be hard to keep non-buyers out.

So, while I hope this project will earn me something, I don’t expect it to pay the rent.

What pays the rent is my multimedia journalism training business. So I also want the MMJ project to market that. Like pop star Andy I make most of my income from these face-to-face sessions.

So I’d suggest that any journalist, any publisher, ought to ponder the face-time conundrum and see if it can work for them.

You can watch video interviews with the two B2B specialists mentioned here. But only until Saturday. After that they go behind my paywall.

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