Friday, February 04, 2005

Crikey is not just a web site

Daniel Donahoo has weighed into the debate about the business value of internet publishing following Crikey's deal with Eric Beecher. In an oped piece in today's Age Donahoo asks: "The sale is good for the founder, but will it good for the site?"

I may be guilty of being too harsh here, but that question betrays a fair degree of ignorance. Or perhaps Donahoo is just repeating the same, annoying mistake that others have in the rush to get with the new thang.

Listen up: internet publishing is NOT, repeat NOT, simply about web sites. It never has been and it never will be.

And Crikey, in particular, has relied less on its web site than most other online publishing efforts of the last ten years. As I said yesterday, the "key to Crikey, which is often overlooked, is the daily email newsletter, delivered twice a day to the reported 5,300 influential subscribers in Australian business, politics and the media. The web site is relatively unimportant to this model."

Donahoo compares Crikey to the indymedia sites which came into prominence in the late 90s. The idea here was that anyone could upload stories and images to a central location where they would be published as part of an "independent e-zine".

Those tools were of their day - the Seattle S11 anti-globalisation protests made the indymedia name widely recognisable. But this publishing model doesn't bear any similarity to the Crikey system.

Unfortunately the piece in The Age gives a quite misleading picture of what Crikey is and where it has come from. Donahoo is correct to say the new owners will "be wanting to increase advertising revenue and the number of subscribers". But most readers' response might be: "Duh, of course!"

Still, anyone, Beecher and Gribble included, will struggle to make money from the Crikey web site. The value for readers is in the email newsletter. The new owners might decide to change this, dump the newsletter delivery and simply whack everything on the site with password access for subscribers. They may seriously consider giving that a try ... except lots of evidence shows it doesn't work.

Crikey has been successful largely because it is delivered to those 5,300 inboxes each day. The distribution is via a push model - similar to newspaper delivery - as opposed to a pull model where subscribers have to remember to visit the web site. There are now other methods, such as RSS or aggregators, that might achieve a similar result for a web site, but is the Crikey audience willing to make all the necessary changes to their online reading habits for this to work? Maybe, but it's a risk.

In lieu of this, the real value for the new owners will remain the database of email addresses that make up the Crikey subscriber list. Not the web site. How they manage the relationship with that group of subscribers will determine whether they can make a go of the acquisition or whether they have to hand the reins back to Mayne at the end of the 18 month initial phase of the deal.

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