Newspapers need to capitalize on scarcity

Scarcity will drive the news organizations of the future and help them differentiate themselves from all the competition, says Nic Brisbourne, a partner at a European venture capital firm in a post on paidContent.org.

Newspapers, he says, have spent the last few decades enjoying a virtual monopoly on information and advertising distribution, but that monopoly has been devastated by the Internet, which has devalued almost everything that the business of newspapers counts on.

So how do you bring value back to news? Brisbourne suggests swimming against the tide of industry big-wigs that’s trying to find a way to charge for news content online. The real answer, he says, is to listen to Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine and author of Free: The future of a radical price. (I haven’t read the book yet. I’ve only listened to a few chapters on audiobook, but I really mean to read it soon.)

Abundance also creates scarcities, Brisbourne says. Newspapers need to look carefully at those scarcities and find out what they can, ahem, leverage so that they’ll make some money.

The scarcities created (and enabled) by abundant news are interesting stories, thought provoking analysis, conversation and community, and trust/verification.

Interesting stories go beyond simple reporting of what has occurred, bringing in relevant context and staying with a topic as it unfolds. Thought provoking analysis will dare to shock, and to be wrong. Conversation and community will both make the experience richer for the active participant and improve the quality of the content on the site for more casual reader. Trust and verification will make you go back to one site rather than another as you know the stories there will be more accurate (note breaking news should be published first and verified second, with appropriate caveats).

In other words, Brisbourne is playing off Jeff Jarvis’s advice: “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.” That is to say, you’re not going to make money off the things everyone is doing, like coverage of major news events, e.g. death of Ted Kennedy, the Minnesota bridge collapse. That sort of news is everywhere, and odds are, someone else is doing it much better than you are.

No, you’re going to make money off the things that you do particularly well. For most newspapers, that’s going to be deep local coverage, the kind you cannot find on CNN or the Huffington Post.

It’s good advice. After all, few people visit their local newspaper’s Web site for the AP headlines. They visit the site for the local news and sports, the stuff they can’t get anywhere else. Find a way to make money there and you’ve got something.