The value in a niche (or why Clay Shirky is a freeloader)

UPDATE: Welcome Shirky fans! This is the home of the online mystery/webcomic Odd Jobs. Links to a whole bunch of free comic goodness on the left, so please look around. The third book in the series, “Cash & Carry,” was published by Echelon Press as their first graphic novel and optioned for television by Warner Bros.
Please note I have no ill feelings about Clay Shirky – agree with him about a lot. But his two blog posts, I believe, vastly understate the affect of the biggest recession in generations. I say this a lot, but This is what the worst recession in generations looks like. And when I say that, I mean we as a society should have laws to curb the irresponsible behavior that’s bringing the entire world’s economy to its knees. The newspaper industry isn’t hurting just because of the internet, it’s hurting because of greed and poor business decisions both inside but mostly outside of the industry.
Here’s a followup post to his followup post, and that’s pretty much all I have to say about that – I’d rather do comics!

Dirk – and in fairness everyone else – routinely links to bad news and analysis about the newspaper industry. Recently more newspaper folks have started to consider – horrors – making people pay for the content they produce. I was struck by a comment Dirk made:

Finally, T.J. Sullivan would like to see more people getting their news from CNN, NPR and the BBC’s websites — oh, wait a minute, I meant “At the stroke of midnight on Independence Day, Saturday July 4, all daily newspapers ought to switch off their Web sites until Friday, July 10.” Which is the same thing, mind you.

Now, I don’t think it’s a good idea to shut down websites – and in fairness to Shirky I don’t necessarily believe micropayments will work. But I do think an important point is being missed here – what’s happening is the growing realization that newspapers actually do more than distribute national and international wire copy and canned features.

They cover their local news, and that’s filling a niche that no one else can. Not consistently, not responsibly and not for a long period of time. At least, not without getting PAID for it. I have read and I continue to see all the arguments and fancy language some people use to argue for a new utopia of information, where people will turn to amateur sources of information rather than pay for it.

Gee, sounds like … doing a webcomic! Wow! Out of all the webcomics there have been, how many have been around – oh, 5 years on a consistent basis? You know, make their update schedule when promised. Very, very few – I know I haven’t.

Now, out of all the people attending council meetings in every suburb in every state, how many have not missed one in – oh, five years? And followed up on all the stories that come out of them. And analyzed data and investigated corruption. For free, while also holding down a day job to pay the bills?

That’s a niche. The Wall Street Journal figured it out. And quite a few organizations and trade publications have figured it out too – there are subscription walls everywhere, and people pay to get access. Because they figured out there’s no profit in feeding the social networking habits of someone who isn’t going click on ads or purchase merchandise. They want the product you produce – the niche product.

News gathering organizations will be smaller, but they’re not going away. And you’ll be paying for them directly, not just indirectly through advertising.

I plan to write more about the future – specifically comics – for an article at Comixtalk


2 Responses to “The value in a niche (or why Clay Shirky is a freeloader)”

  1. Frank Weir

    I appreciate your comments! Shirky also got me to thinking and I agree that there is a GREED component in here. It is my understanding the newspaper industry has enjoyed profits far higher than many other industries for years. Yet owners are jettisoning papers as quickly as they can now when I assume the economy will improve eventually. Can’t owners damn well accept profits in the teens rather than in the 20′s or 30th percentiles and we keep something important? Apparently not…owners, shareholders, investors…they have to acquire the most that they can and to heck with any idea beyond that. It’s really a shame that corporate-think has taken over so much of our society.

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