Food for action

In his new book: Free The future of a radical price, Chris Anderson reminds entrepreneurs to swim upstream. He suggests that there is a gravitational force in any economy which reduces the price of any abundant supply to zero. Profitability, and then revenue, vanishes as anything becomes commoditized, and ubiquitous. Meanwhile, that abundance creates a new scarcity. Upstream, against the vector of price gravity, are new realms of revenue and profitability. Tim O'Reilly suggests that profitability cannot disappear, only change form, like the indestructibility of matter/energy. The question is where to look for new regions of revenue and profits.

The most obvious upstream relocation is an attention economy. When we're swimming in too much readily available information, we're running short on being able to pay attention. We're more inclined to pay attention to those who pay attention to us -- like friends and followers in social networking platforms. We're less likely to pay attention to content providers who merely provide more/better/different content which increases the abundance, rather than capitalize on the new scarcity.

Another possible upstream relocation for profitability is deeper comprehension. Both McKenzie Wark and Umair Haque have suggested there is a scarcity of genuine food for thought. Back when I was teaching college, I would have said the same thing. Getting my students to think for themselves, to hack the propaganda in the textbook, and to co-create new understandings -- was my pride and joy. Having extracted myself from that consensual reality, I now view "food for thought" as the sugar water offered by paid content providers. It merely competes with the abundance of free content while taxing the shortage of attention like all content does. Said another way, better taste is not better nutrition for those wasted by junk food. The value proposition does not solve the problems of non-consumers.

My latest possibility under consideration is "food for action". Unlike food for thought, there's a relative shortage of information for getting results, making a specific difference, realizing particular changes and completing specific objectives. The abundance of information is informative, explanatory, and insightful but not "food for action". The non-consumers who I've defined as "too busy" to utilize newspapers are immersed in taking action. Besides a scarcity of attention and comprehension, these action heroes, responders, and grass roots activists run short of strategies, solutions and protocols. They want to know "what to do with new information?". The answer to that question will empower their filtering the surplus content and engage their deeper comprehension. When they put "food for action" to use and it works and gets results, they're predisposed to pay for more. They perceive the exceptional value without advertising pitches or bargaining pricing. They seem to me like the most likely place where profitability is conserved as it disappears from Journalism 1.0.


  1. Tom, I work for a media company whose focus is in educational conferences first. While we had been doing news stories, columns, and interviews on the web, now we'd like expand to expand our online activities. However, we've taken particular note that the expansion of so many news stories and columns from bloggers and media companies, makes it a very competitive space and increasingly difficult to be profitable from active participation.

    Food for Action is definitely what we want to offer our audience. It takes more time and effort to create though, therefore we'd like to go the Freemium route (some free, limited time free, unlimited or per access premium). It'll take great content, good information architecture, and a lot of marketing combined with personal outreach to implement, but we believe it'll work.

    We still think there's a role for news & columns as it'll help promote our premium offerings, but we're concepting lean/efficient means for news curation and opinion writing by us and our audience instead.

    I read your Unreadable Newspapers article and forwarded it to my colleagues over the weekend, which added to the case that news (even in the long tail, where we are) is overrated and we should further inquire into what matters to our audience, and what we can do to make a substantive difference in their work.
    After calling just two people I didn't know but work in the channel I'm managing, they said case studies, tactical guides (beyond platitudes), and research curation is what mattered. I didn't mention that we're planning weekly webinars in 6 weeks.

    Anyways, thanks for stirring my brain in a meaningful direction Tom.

  2. Mario
    It's news to me that you're paying attention to me and spreading my reputation. Thank you!
    It's news to me that my production of free content is framed as "food for action" in the context you've revealed to us here.
    It's news to me that what I''m exploring and writing about is getting used to help you reformulate some value propositions and business models. Very cool!
    It's good news for me to take your comment as food for my further action in exploring and writing about Journalism 2.0

    I suspect all this "news to me" becomes "news to you" as I've framed your comment in this way. Perhaps keeping track of "what is news" in this personal way will clarify how to structure the free side of freemium models you're exploring and make the news you provide much more readable to non-consumers, unrivaled in the channel/niche and lean to manufacture.