What Everyone Is Missing About Media Business Models

Oh, how the winds have changed for ad-supported media. Over the past year, it’s become decidedly trendy to praise non-advertising business models. This week Ev Williams, a longtime advertising adherent, called online ads a “broken system.” Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who has argued vociferously that news and opinion should be free, this week proposed a complicated micropayment model for Medium inspired by bitcoin. 

I’ve watched this rhetoric change with hope. There has never been a more important time to fix the broken business model of news. With the election and its aftermath, the news has become the news, and readers everywhere are rooting for quality.

But everywhere I look, I see publishers paying lip service to more direct payment models without taking real action. And publishers—unwilling to embrace and prioritize subscriptions—are still serving advertisers over readers.

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Perhaps that’s part of the issue. The incremental business model experiments, being billed as “unconventional” in digital media these days, are prevailing because anything else rocks the boat too much. Truly new models, which happen to be simple old ones, threaten incumbent financiers and executives. So, to those media leaders who want to truly fix the broken media business in 2017, I wish you the courage to ignore the “innovators” and become one yourself.

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Tim O'Reilly, Todd Geist and 18 others commented on this article.
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There is The Outline, which drew some headlines for raising money. (I still don’t understand why raising money is more headline-worthy than making it.)