Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tea and Synergy

In order to thrive in a Participation Economy, traditional media outlets like newspapers and magazines will need transformational ideas. Especially when it comes to creating revenue in an age of free content.

Of all companies, Starbucks might have happened upon just such an idea. Next month, the coffee giant will begin offering free wi-fi in all of its American locations. No big deal in this – but soon, Starbucks customers will also have unrestricted access to a variety of pay sites, including the Wall Street Journal.

This is an innovative way of avoiding the dreaded “pay wall,” without giving content away gratis. Publishers get paid for their content, Starbucks gets to offer an exclusive service that will surely help sell more coffee, and customers save potentially hundreds of dollars in subscription fees.

As we’ve seen, the emergence of the Participation Economy has been both good and bad for the media industry.

Today, anyone with an internet connection can access a wide array of content – from the Washington Post to their friend’s latest blog post, from the Drudge Report to the Colbert Report – and decide for themselves what’s worth their time. In fact, only 7 percent of Americans get their news from a single platform.

At the same time, technologies like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter allow every connected person to create, distribute, and comment on media without getting out of their pajamas.

Media of all forms has never been more engagingly diverse. But traditional media outlets, as we know, are in the lurch. The truth is, one way or another, high-quality content will need to be paid for.

Figuring out how to do that, without disrupting the dynamic media environment that free content has created, will require wild experimentation. If content producers are going to discover the breakthrough ideas that will keep mainstream media thriving for years to come, they need to adopt a philosophy of fail fast, learn fast, and fix fast.