Can the media industry Spotify content?


Top business minds often claim that the key to success in times of restructuring is asking the right questions. But what if we are asking the wrong questions? What if the question isn’t how will we make people pay for quality journalism?

Some of the best case studies on successful business development contain the very same ingredient: The creation of new revenue streams by selling something completely different than the traditional core product.

That is the case with lowfare airlines, which give away the actual flight, moving the target from passengers to destinations, moving the unique selling proposition (USP) from “transporting people” to “developing regions.”

This is also true with gas stations. They sell the old core product at close to zero margin, instead turning themselves into 24/7 convenience stores, selling anything from fast food to music at higher margins than the competition. This moves the USP to “anything you need, when you need it.”

And it’s true of other reinvented segments, too.

One of my favourite examples along these lines is sometimes used by Finnish CRM expert Ralf Blomqvist, and it’s set in farming: With distributors pressing for constantly lower prices, dairy production is no longer as profitable a business as it used to be. It could mean crisis – or a great opportunity to reinvent yourself.

A quick glance at the market tells us the latter definitely is possible:

The market is full of stressed city-dwellers with an urge for a country-style living, without the constraints. They dream of the romantic farm life with rolling meadows and fresh air – but don’t want the hassle of milking, etc.

The response was born in Switzerland: a rent-a-cow scheme.

For US$233 a month, you can have a taste of farm life, buy “your” cow’s dairy products – and feel that you are part of the greater picture, embracing the lifestyle of your inner dreams, and, at the same time, helping people survive in the alpine economy.

So here the dairy farmers are no longer selling the milk (or at a small profit, at best). Rather, they sell the countryside experience (with a completely different price tag).

Now, I am sure you are catching the drift here, that you are able to follow this line of thinking all the way to our beloved, but struggling, media business. Sure, there are already initiatives trying to carry out the cow trick, finding sponsorship for quality journalism when the core product doesn’t attract the big crowds anymore.

But none – to my knowledge – has added this crucial ingredient of co-creation.

When my former staff and I launched the eEditor, an early prototype of collaborative journalism at the Swedish regional Norran in 2009, one of the main theories was that product value increases if the audience is invited to build a piece of themselves into the newspaper.

Just like the cow-rental people in a sense merge with the countryside.

Co-creation in the legacy media context is from the collaborator’s perspective:

  • Taking active part in the exciting world around the news desk.

  • Building an exclusive relationship with the busy editors.

  • Being seen and valued for “my” contribution including intake, experiences, and knowledge.

  • Being part of something greater – a “we” – that strengthens democracy and the local community.

But it is also getting the reward of recognition: Norran always offered all our contributors a “reader byline,” which stated who contributed with what.

And – maybe most important in these convincing-reluctant-readers times – it is much harder to find arguments against a product that you yourself have been part of producing.

Today, five years later, this kind of thinking has exploded. Adding the crowd-prefix (crowdfuncing, crowdsourcing, etc.) and you have disruption in field after field.

Even the traditional manufacturing industry sees itself overtaken by the maker’s movement. This is the bottom-up production approach, empowering everyone to create their own industrial revolution.

But what we still miss is a global journalism Spotify, not for music but for content, offering the customers a true choice, cutting through brand silos and their copyright limitations. Letting readers create their own “playlist” of content, even across language areas.

Readly has taken a step in this direction, but in Readly’s offer, you still have to buy the brand bundle. Readers individualise their selection, looking for writers they like. Instead of looking for The New York Times, they are looking for specific bylines. 

An initiative closer to a journalism Spotify is Swedish prize-winning start-up Content Central, connecting content producers and publishers. This creates two things:

  • A content bank (from the publisher’s point-of-view).

  • A shop window (from the content producer’s point-of-view).

The business model, however, is rather traditional.

If Content Central would not only connect content to (traditional) publishers but directly to the readers, adding a Spotify type of business model, this might just be the sharp tool your ex-staffers need to make this previous blog post come true, transforming your ex-staffers to your worst competitors.


Don’t be. There is still time. But don’t let someone else innovate. Be your own disruption!

I say there is still time because there is a big challenge in all this left to solve: the remuneration question. The sharing society is amazing with democratisation and the empowerment of the grassroots. But content creators are starting to ask: What’s in it for me?

Many intelligent people across the world are searching for the answer to that question. One is brilliant Italian professor in cultural economics at the University of Milan, Pier Luigi Sacco.

I hereby invite all of you knowledgeable, smart, and experienced news executives to put your minds at work. Or even better, experiment!

How do we create a sustainable remuneration system for the creative professions in this new economy, where culture often is a key driver? Answer that and you will have paved your way to success.

Don’t forget to post your thoughts and findings here in the comments field. Let’s keep the ideas coming!

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