The components of the next media ‘business model’ are ready: dewy-eyed newcomers, not media’s Old Guard, will do the essential assembly and testing

august 2013 lolling nymphs circular balcony DSCF1026

The old classic forms for media are broken: their replacements are coming from young explorers open to the magic of possibility and experimentation - photographs of the Villa Borromeo: MIL22

The old classic forms for media are broken: their replacements are coming from young explorers open to the magic of possibility and experimentation
– photographs of the Villa Borromeo: MIL22

Though Larry Page, the Google co-founder, has a thatch of grey hair, we know he is still only forty-one. His baby face reminds us that he was twenty-five in 1998, when he hatched a search engine with Sergey Brin. We also know that Jimmy Wales was thirty-five when he launched the Wikipedia in 2001, and Jeff Bezos a mere thirty at the founding of in 1994.

So, why are we looking to today’s old media leaders to reshape the way we get news and commentary through them? Google, Wikipedia and Amazon — three inventions that have made done more than any others to re-shape the habits of those of us who used to be called bookworms — should have made it pointless for anyone to expect the big names in print media, whose chiefs are nearly all middle-aged or old, to build the bridge to future economic survival for their enterprises.

Three identifiers of the most promising scheme for publishing – called a ‘business model’ – look more practical and likely than ever:

Some form of collective ownership and management – which, for some new publishing groups, would mean replacing the old idea of ‘reader subscriptions’ with small ownership stakes for audience members who want a say in drafting rules and setting policy.

Consultative decision-making on strategic and policy matters helped by free, ‘sharable’ software tools designed to streamline collaboration — the kind being developed by New Zealand’s Loomio cooperative (the most sophisticated of which might include software tailored to deal with particular kinds of conflict).

Vast aggregations of micropayments making up the financial lifeblood of media collectives – from selling access to certain kinds of information or entertainment (though most of this would be free); or in-payments for the privilege of stakeholding, and outpayments when there are profits to be distributed.

Most of the worker-bees driving the creativity at Loomio and the micropayments innovator Flattr are decades younger than the old media leaders in continental Europe interviewed last week by The Guardian about their struggle to adapt for digitisation. The limit of bold and adventurous thinking by these appears to be a subscription club – similar to the plan described by Mario Calabresi, editor-in-chief of Italy’s La Stampa , in which most of its offerings would continue to be free …

… while holding back some premium content in order to be able to offer more in-depth information to those who want it. Around this premium content we are building a club-like structure, which brings together our keenest readers and offers them exclusive tools with which to understand the world.

Club, yes; but stake, no – and that is surely a mistake. Giving readers the chance to own a financial stake, even a small one, in drawing more traffic to a media site would encourage more of them to linger to chat with other readers – regularly log on to comments sections, treating them like virtual pubs or coffee-shops for relaxing sessions of teasing, information-sharing, debating and flirting anonymously and pseudonymously as well as in the prosaic guise of being, as on Facebook, simply themselves. One commenter on the Guardian survey of European papers had the media enterprise of the future exactly right:


13 June 2014 11:03am

… Newspapers, tv etc have to accept that media is now two-way.

So Guardian etc should become more like a social media site?

To an extent they already involve the readers with the comment threads.

Or, as the 2010 paper that this post-Gutenberg blog extends said, if we may be forgiven for the unpardonable sin of quoting ourselves:

New communication technologies have created a karaoke world. … Practically no one is content any more to be just a spectator, reader, passive listener or viewer. Audience participation as well as the right to talk back – which includes non-expert reviewing of works or performances by trained and seasoned professionals — have become absolutely essential.

That La Stampa understands this is clear. Calabresi said:

We are drawing on user-generated content, seeking to unite and integrate it with our quality journalism. On social networks we are working to increase reader engagement in order to make them key players in the debate on our content.

He sounds remarkably like The Guardian’s own editor, Alan Rusbridger, telling an American interviewer that

We are putting our commentators in the same space as all our readers and letting them fight it out. … [R]eally, in this community of Guardian readers, there are a lot of intelligent, well-versed people actually traveling. So let’s open it up to them.

But those are just words, mere sentiments, at present. Until they are offered a financial stake and the possibility, some day, of sharing in any profits, those readers contributing comments and reporting to ‘opened up’ papers are simply supplying unpaid labour. Not, in our view, an operating scheme with much of a future.

When will some newspaper like La Stampa or The Guardian test the idea of sharing ownership and decision-making on a strictly experimental section of its site – as this blog has suggested before, more than once? They might take a cue from the adventurous ‘skunk works’ at the Harvard Business School testing online education.

One European interviewed by the London newspaper about the digital future, Stefan Niggemeier – an ex-Spiegel staffer who has worked both as an editor and publishing innovator — is part of a group of twenty-five German investigative journalists playing with financial schemes that do not rely on advertising: ‘We want to see if there’s a way of establishing a non-advertising-based model. Whether it will work, I don’t know, but I know it’s right to try it, even if it fails.’

Rusbridger is sixty. Niggemeier and Calabresi are both in their mid-forties. Even they might not be young enough to translate proposals and hypotheses into media’s clicking and whirring fully operational future.

Do we need a campaign for micropayments to support ‘lyric perception’?

Photograph by MIL22

This helpless thing, lyric perception, is an authentic response to the world’s impossible contradictions which seem to resolve themselves, finally, as beauty. In fact, I believe that lyricism represents a form of courage, for it is the only response as thoroughly vulnerable as the jeopardized world itself is.

Patricia Hampl,  Spillville,  1987

'1 2 3 4 QUARTETTO b' MIL22

As more writers and artists without formal qualifications but with undeniable gifts find audiences for their work on the net, will micropayments finally take off?

By micropayments I mean fractions of €10 or $10 notes – or their equivalent – paid through a transactional service like Kachingle or Flattr to look at an image or video, read a text, or listen to a musical performance or composition. These are payments so minuscule that they barely register with our pocketbooks, but do earn their creators some measurable income in the aggregate.

Popular writers and artists would still far out-earn rivals who cater to more specialised tastes, but some of those appreciated by smaller audiences might be able to retain more of the earnings that they must give away, at present, to middlemen they cannot really afford to pay at all – intermediaries who rarely have the time or inclination to spend much time promoting their work.

So far, so-called Millennials – the generation in their twenties and early thirties now shaping our experience of the net — have shown little enthusiasm for micro-transactions. Their complaints about feeling cheated by corporate middlemen in the music business, when obliged to pay for the pleasure of  ‘sharing’ a song, are not completely incomprehensible.

But why are they so unenthusiastic about experimenting with micropayments — direct transactions between buyers and sellers?

Many ardent campaigners for the so-called ‘Freemium’ economy willingly pay small ransoms for the latest gadgets – even when these are only minor improvements or enhancements of last year’s versions, and are designed to fatten the profits of the hated capitalists. Few of them learn to cook simple meals from scratch: they are happy to pay huge mark-ups for bland microwaveable fare cooked and packaged by giant corporations, or to patronise  fast-food chains.

Why is it seemingly only art that turns them into Scrooges?

If more Millennials come to see themselves as artists, writers and musicians in years to come – using the democratic new publishing tools – will they become less unsympathetic?

Will Flattr, a micropayment specialist, prove to be PayPal’s equivalent for blog financing?

Rooftops, or all we can see of the future of blogging

Welcome, Flattr.

Yours is the most practical solution I have seen so far to the question of how bloggers can make a living from blogging – without selling out to corporate advertisers.

I only learnt of your existence last week from a tweet about your ‘Pay a Blogger Day’. I am doing my best to help make tomorrow, 29 November, the start of something wonderful.

I shall be picking three bloggers to support, and will try to put a Flattr button here, soon – when I extend this post I am tapping out with too little time in a month of travelling and disruption.

Workable micropayments are crucial to the success of an egalitarian model for net publishing outlined in a blog entry here and described in detail in this paper.

Until I can post again, I will think about your descriptions of the Flattr enterprise, and the meaning of tomorrow:

Pay a Blogger Day is our effort to put the bloggers in the spotlight to recognize the value they bring to the internet.

………………………….                 and                     …………………………..

Flattr was founded to help people share money, not just content. Before Flattr, the only reasonable way to donate has been to use Paypal or other systems to send money to people. The threshold for this is quite high. People would just ignore the option to send donations if it wasn’t for a really important cause. Sending just a small sum has always been a pain in the ass. Who would ever even login to a payment system just to donate €0.01? And €10 was just too high for just one blog entry we liked…

Flattr solves this issue. When you’re registered to flattr, you pay a small monthly fee. You set the amount yourself. At the end of the month, that fee is divided between all the things you flattered.

2 December 2011 

I did indeed open an account with Flattr – which happens to be in Sweden – but its software has so far rejected my attempts to pay anonymous micro-tributes to two of the bloggers I chose. Nor does the Flattr button I added to this blog work yet. As I have had fires to tend elsewhere, there has been no time for a sustained attack on the problem.

So … that is another reminder of PayPal – not as the well-oiled and useful service it has become today, but in its early years, when it was still keeping its parents awake with teething traumas.

The idea behind Pay A Blogger Day remains excellent. This modest scheme, like Flattr itself, could be one stepping stone to collaborative publishing that is jointly owned and run by many. We do not know whether Flattr will live up to its promise but if it fails, some other organisation will find a way to act as a medium for computing and distributing microscopic sums of cash.

Computers, as most of us still perceive dimly, will turn out to be crucial to real democracy not just because they have brought us the net, with its capacity to gather and mobilise groups of people, but because they do complex arithmetic so effortlessly. In not-mathematics designed to give a mathematician a blue fit, you could say — to make this memorable,

 many equals = share precisely = an awful lot of counting

Governing Switzerland — the world leader in extreme democracy, as I have pointed out before, on this site  entails extraordinary feats of number-crunching. In explaining how the Swiss system works, the historian and political scientist Jonathan Steinberg has noted:

The Swiss prefer proportional representation to majority systems. ..[T] he ‘Sovereign,’ ‘the people’, is really sovereign …

The most striking single manifestation of that sovereignty is the intricacy of voting.

He supplies illustrations of the extreme delicacy of Swiss ‘instruments for measuring the popular will’. Do not worry about the specifics of his context – which has to do with the ways in which proportional representation divides seats on a certain governing council between different political parties (in some cantons). Consider only the complexity and sophistication of the calculations involved – for one example of which he quotes a fellow-scholar, Christopher Hughes:

Divide the total vote (60,000) by the number of seats plus one (11). The result is called the Provisional Quotient (5,454). In our example, it gives the provisional result of 6:2:1:0:0. But this only adds up to 9, and there are ten seats to be allocated. The second sum seeks the Final Quotient. This is obtained by dividing each party’s votes by the provisional number of seats it obtains, plus one. Thus List A (36,000) is divided by 7 (6 plus 1) and gives the result 5,142. This sum is repeated for each seat in turn, and the highest of the results is the Final Quotient; in our example, 5,142 is the highest. It is the number which when divided among each result in turn gives the right number of seats.

Got that? Right. Thought you would.

True democracy = massive computation.

We need you, Flattr, but please get the bugs out of your software – unless it turns out that mine is to blame for my inability to make another blogger’s day.