A Plea for a Non-Profit Media Landscape
A re:publica event
1. Current business models, and why new media companies’ success is deceptive
All media companies are faced with the problem of simultaneously aspiring to being the country’s fourth estate, and of depending on money from those they should be reporting on to survive. This is neither a new development nor something that has emerged only with the Internet.
To understand the crisis of journalism in detail, we must understand these companies’ business models.
2. Non-profit is the solution
A recurring element across the book-, newspaper-, and magazine-publishing industries is the desire of people in these organisations to see themselves as more than simply businesspeople who must preserve a publisher from financial distress. They see themselves as cultural workers, and have aspirations differing from those held by Silicon Valley’s emissaries.
This is perhaps clearest in the dispute between book publishers and Amazon. While on the one hand, a book is nothing more than a product for sale, just like a game, charger cable or nappy, it is on the other primarily a cultural contribution. Anyone who gives up their distribution to third parties must resign themselves to being caught up in a capitalist market, and to being compared on this basis. In this sense, the aspiration of cultural work collides with the reality of the neoliberal market.
It’s easy to imagine that companies like Buzzfeed, which have already hired many well-known journalists, will outlive the traditional media. Even the New York Times still depends on print advertisements for three-quarters of its income. The new venture-capital-financed organisations must face their own problems, however. They are pressured not only to be profitable, but to reach levels of profitability far above the average. Otherwise, they wil be unable to please their investors, who come primarily from Silicon Valley.
What must happen? An escape from the market can be a liberating break that enables the industry to find its way back to its old strength.
Igor Schwarzmann, Founder, Third Wave GmbH