In a world where we will drop twenty dollars on a glossy magazine packed with advertising, we only pay a dollar and fifty cents for a newspaper full of “informed” journalism.
There’s no doubt in my eyes that somewhere along the line, journalism undervalued itself, and in doing so, shot itself squarely in the foot. Now, as advertisers place more pressure on journalists to sell rather than inform, the priority rapidly moves from what’s in the public interest, to what the public is interested in.
As circulation decreases, hatchet men from Fairfax and News Limited trim the non-existent fat. Jobs are jettisoned in favour of staying afloat, along with them: the capacity for quality and journalistic integrity in a newsroom.
The model is dying. So where to from here?
Submitted for your consideration, a free online publication called Penny Arcade.
Targeted specifically at the video-gamer community. The site features a range of different content, ranging from industry reports and commentary to reviews, opinion pieces and its primary centrepiece: comics.
Its means of revenue has typically been advertising, but alongside this a great deal of time is devoted to commission based work, where the sites creators; Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, would outsource their skills to larger companies, working to create material specifically for them. More advertising.
One month ago Hokins and Krahilik hit upon a bold idea. What if they gave their readers the option to fund the site? Could their online community successfully fund a company of over thirty people?
They pitched the project on Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding platform.
The underlying notion was “we want to sell out, and we’d love to sell out to you.”
Over the course of a month, the campaign successfully raised over $520,000. Not enough to fund the site exclusively, but more than enough to whittle away some of the advertising and commission based work for the following year, allowing more time for content to be produced.
One of the key factors for success was a list of stretch-goals, on the Kickstarter project page clearly signposting what could be accomplished for a particular figure of money that they raised. The main notion being; the more we can escape the advertising model, the more work we can devote to new projects.
So what does this actually tell us?
It’s a good question. Penny-Arcade is immensely popular. Over the years it has developed a cult following. It has no shortage of people who want to support it. Would a major newspaper be able to accomplish a similar feat?
Possibly. It’s not drawing a long bow to say that you would certainly be able to match the amount of people who value video game opinion with people who value general news. Certainly enough to employ more people and invest more money and time into informed reporting projects.
Now imagine a hypothetical world in which a journalistic publication successfully executed this approach. Where the true “customer” of Journalism ceased to be the advertisers and instead became the readers themselves. Where the publication could alter the model of distribution to cater directly to those customers.
Keep an eye on kickstarter. I suspect its users have only just scratched the surface of what the platform is truly capable of.