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Shaking out content

Tuesday, July 11, 2000 by Dave Winer.

Start a farm system Permalink to Start a farm system

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a story entitled "Webzines merge to survive shakeout".

"Feed Magazine and Suck.com, two of the Web's oldest publications, are expected to announce Monday that they are joining forces."

I've been expecting this kind of deal for quite some time, and have been preparing for the day that the euphoria died and the publications of the Web would start re-thinking their business models.

Here's my thinking. Any webzine can grow right now by offering sites to their users with their branding on it. Start a farm system, publish the work of amateurs.

Teach them how to write for the public. A year from now, turn the best of them into pros, and the year after, and the year after that.

The business model? Users openly design new products. Manufacturers make the most exciting products and sell them to the users. We go back to making products that people want. Step one is to give the users a platform. That's where the publications come in. (They also get a cut of the sales.)

It's not a mirror Permalink to It's not a mirror

The Web is not a mirror of the print industry, that's why advertising is not so important. The unique thing about the Web is that it's interactive. The challenge is to squeeze quality, high-integrity writing out of the readers, and present it back to them with a seal of quality. That's a much higher-growth proposition than employing writers and running ads as the print industry does.

I was disappointed to see that Automatic Media is using SlashDot-style conferencing for the Suck-Feed combination. I strongly believe this is the wrong approach. Better to start new Sucks and Feeds using the traditions of sarcasm and literacy that each of these pubs have done such a great job of starting.

UserLand is doing it that way. We've started over 6000 Scripting News-type sites here in the last six months. Some are now reaching critical mass. It's a thing to behold.

On SlashDot they had to add hard-to-use filtering to create a minimal level of quality. In our world, it's the other way around -- how do you find the good new stuff? That creates the incentive for thoughtful content. That's why, along with Manila, we made the investment in syndication, and in weblogs.com, to assist in finding new stuff.

Some pubs could apply this model right now, ones that have powerful readerships, many of whom could immediately start their own sub-pubs. The Industry Standard, Salon, Red Herring, Wired, Suck, Feed, MacInTouch, Fawcette, come to mind, but there are probably dozens that could grow this way. Some are already doing it. SourceForge, Motley Fool, Gomez.

Salon Permalink to Salon

Of all the publications mentioned above, the one that interests me most is Salon.

Here's the pitch. They're independent, not tethered to a larger organization. Their voice has unimpeachable integrity.

Salon best captures the early spirit of the Web, and has grown with the Web, not remained static. Wired, which was the early leader, has been decimated, half going to Lycos and the other half going to Conde Nast; and even worse, the people of the early Wired are dispersed all over the industry.

Salon has a highly regarded name, not just in the Internet space, but more broadly.

They ran the Courtney Love piece. It made sense for it to run there (except I wish they hadn't split it over four pages, there's that pesky print advertising model). That it made sense is the important thing. That's why it would also make sense for Courtney Love and others like her to have their own permanent space on Salon.

Another reason I like Salon is that they're cheap. The market cap, at market close on Tuesday, is only $16 million. Totally undervalued.

Dave Winer

PS: An offer to any of these pubs. You may run any DaveNet column with your branding on it. I don't want any money. Thanks.

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