Photo editorial services are the most-profitable and least-risky business models in digital. The best pay a living wage; the worst can be very dangerous — and very expensive. For many news organizations, advertising is their major source of income. But even when they do make money, it is often far from what they anticipated.
We know this from experience. Our research has shown that in the early days of the web, the largest single source of revenue for most of the largest news organizations is their advertising revenue. (There seems to be a correlation between the amount that advertisers pay and the amount of work the news organization does with advertising. In our experience, the smaller the network, the less the advertisers pay. But that doesn’t mean that some news organizations have never received advertising revenue.) But the news media model has made it extremely difficult for online ad sellers to get in on the advertising game. The current trend is to use a traditional media model, but with the caveat that, in exchange for their digital traffic, the ad seller is expected to keep the site online and to make money by paying news organizations.
We believe that all websites — even the big ones — could use a more fair and open exchange of advertising revenue, so long as that was made transparent to the site owner.
But what if the news media model is in trouble?
For many years, the media business has been run through the largest network possible, the largest media company, the largest publisher — and so forth. Today, this network is largely broken up, with news organizations in the lower echelons of publishing. There is no single network that is the dominant financial institution, so you’ve got the likes of BuzzFeed, Vox, Vox Popoli, the New Yorker and the Guardian. Meanwhile in the very top tier are the likes of The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Slate, Politico, The New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Times. This top tier is more like a media company than it is like any single company. And it’s just as fragmented as the middle tier, which has become ever more fragmented.
Some might dismiss this as a matter of economics not of the digital era. But we believe we’re facing a new kind of business model in the digital media world. In many ways, this is about people — it’s about people, not about economic power or financial stability. It’s about human choice — it’s about choice, not about competition — choices, not about an economic system.