The future of news and journalism all comes down to business according to Marc Andreessen. In fact, Andreessen estimates that the news market will grow to approximately 5 billion people around the world by 2020. That’s just six years away, but news organizations and journalists aren’t ready—not even close according to Andreessen.
If you’re not familiar with Marc Andreessen, here are a few facts to give you some idea of where his perspective on the future of news comes from. Andreessen was one of the developers of the first web browser (Mosaic), a co-founder of Netscape, and a co-founder of Ning. He has also founded and sold multiple companies (including selling Opsware, a software company, which sold to HP). Today, he is co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm. Andreessen is also on the board of directors for Facebook, HP, and eBay.
In a Twitter chat that occurred earlier this month, Andreesen provided a long list of thoughts and predictions about the future of news, and he put them together into a blog post that is worth a read. Three key topics in his post are most relevant to content publishers: content quality (analogous with product quality), the shift to running news organizations like businesses, and money.
1. Content Quality
In every marketing book I write, I try to include what I believe is the fundamental rule of marketing: No one cares about you. They care about how your products and services can help them, make their lives easier, or improve their lives. Andreessen said something similar during his Twitter chat. He said, “My number one rule for all businesses: if customers aren’t buying from you, it’s not their fault. It’s yours.” This statement is 100% true, and it applies to content quality for publishers, relevance, timeliness, usefulness, and meaningfulness just like it applies to product quality, relevance, timeliness, usefulness, and meaningfulness for businesses.
Andreessen wrote, “For better or worse (and maybe both), print journalism is converging in technique and quality towards blogs and Wikipedia. I am very interested to see how Journalism with a capital J can maintain its reputation for truth and accuracy versus upstart blogs and Wikipedia. For Journalism — big J — the stakes are very high if that reputation is lost.” It remains to be seen which news brands will survive and thrive in this new world where, “formerly separate industries are colliding on the internet. It’s newspaper vs. magazine vs. broadcast TV vs. cable TV vs. wire service. Now they all compete.”
2. News as a Business
Andreessen believes that the news business should be run like any other business is run. He writes, “Thinking of news as a business is not only NOT bad for quality, objective journalism, but is PRO quality, objective journalism.”
He explains that the shift in how businesses are run cannot be stopped and offers a history lesson to support his theory. He writes, “The main change is that news businesses from 1946-2005 were mostly monopolies and oligopolies. Now they aren’t. The monopoly/oligopoly structure of newspapers, magazines, and broadcast TV news pre-’05 meant restricted choice and overly high prices. In other words, the key to the old businesses was control of distribution, way more than anyone ever wanted to admit.”
It all comes down to money—as all business does. Andreessen does not believe that paywalls will work. While he says paywalls “penalize most loyal customers” he does think charging people to access specific content that is highly targeted can work citing The Wall Street Journal and The Information as examples. He also believes that it should be possible for someone to come up with premium advertising that would actually work.
He offers eight business models that he believes can be used now and in the future to bring in money—advertising, subscriptions, premium content, philanthropy (such as ProPublica), crowdfunding, conferences and events, cross-media, and bitcoin for micropayments.
Andreessen believes that the failure to change is holding the news business back. He explains one of the biggest problems that is making it hard for news organizations to move forward as they need to is, “the bloated cost structure left over from the news industry’s monopoly/oligopoly days.”
The future could be bright for news and journalism if the news business makes desperately-needed changes. Andreessen writes, “The market size is dramatically expanding—many more people consume news now vs. 10-20 years ago. Many more still will consume new in the next 10 to 20 years. Volume is being driven up, and that’s a big, big deal.”
What do you think about the future of news and journalism?
Image: Andr Rainaud