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December 01, 2005

What Pajamas Media Should Be Doing.

Yes, yes, I know, highly presumptuous of someone not in the gang to try and tell them what to do with the VC money they’ve raised. However, I was at least in the first iteration of said gang and Roger was telling at least one person that I still was the week before the launch. So my 2 cents worth.

The reason I wanted to join was that I heard the magic word "syndication". The reason I didn’t follow through with the paperwork was because what they and I thought that word meant were rather different. I misunderstood the meaning that they attributed to the word perhaps.

Still, before revealing what I think is what they should be doing (take it as a combination of well meaning advice from someone who wishes them every success and a job application) what is it that they are actually doing?

There’s the main site itself, of course. Aggregating content isn’t in itself a silly thing to do. Any and every business must have an outlet on the web these days of course. But taking free stuff and repackaging it for free doesn’t, however good it might be for image reasons, sound like the basis of a great business. It could be that the sheer volume of traffic will make the ads on the site pay but that will require a lot more traffic than they’re getting at present.

There’s also Glenn’s well known interest in equipping selected bloggers with laptops and video cameras so as to provide on the spot reporting which would then, presumably, be fed through the site. Again, not a bad idea but where is the revenue stream from this?

The advertising they are now beginning to roll out? Actually, I don’t think this is all that bad an idea. It’s a bit of a bet (but then so much of capitalism is) on the future direction of traffic numbers but what they’ve done is an interesting way to play it. If I remember correctly the payment to bloggers running the ads is fixed for the next 18 months. If traffic rises strongly over the next (as it has over the past) time period then towards the end of the period that real estate is going to be vastly more valuable than it is now. Buying now at a fixed price and being able to sell it at a floating one later is something like a futures contract on traffic numbers and ad rates this time next year and later.

Not, perhaps, a bet that I would want to make (and looking at it from my side as a seller of that space was one of the minor reasons that I didn’t go all the way in the signing up process) but it’s not an absurd one, nor one that is destined to fail.

There’s also commissioned content for the main site like the Claudia Rosett piece so wonderfully spoofed at Pyjamas. It’s a good piece, could run at Techcentralstation and many other places as well. But hiring good writers for specific pieces is again, not really something all that different or worldchanging. Salon and the like have shown that it’s not necessarily profitable either.

So far I seem to be damning with faint praise, if I’m even being that supportive. So what is it that I think they should be doing to make this the roaring success I would like it to be?

The answer lies in that word "syndication". From what I see now the PJM guys are taking this to mean syndicating bloggers and blogs to bloggers and other online readers. Which while it might be both fun and could even, given sufficient traffic, be profitable, isn’t what I thought they were first talking about when the subject was raised.

Rather, I think they should be syndicating blogs and bloggers to the mainstream media.

Take a step back for a moment and think of this dispassionately. Forget the "storming the ramparts of the librul/conservative media", the "Citizen Journalist" stuff for a moment and think what we actually have in the blogosphere. 20 odd million people tapping away at their keyboards.

OK, so 19.9 million 10 million all except this one your choice of number are the dire and delusional rantings of the over-excited. But we also agree that at least some of the material produced is both literate and informed, of equal or greater quality than that found in the pages of tomorrow’s fish wrappers.

We also have a dead tree newspaper business almost on its knees and desperate to reduce costs. It’s still huge, has billions of dollars floating round the system but they’re all cutting staff left right and centre.

So, still trying to be dispassionate, we have  large amounts of good quality stuff being produced and a large industry which would like access to that material. (This is, of course, as long as both sides can indeed be dispassionate.) It needs to be organised in some way, filtered, there needs to be a standard set of terms and so on, an accounting system, but we do appear to have willing buyers and willing sellers who need a helping hand in the form of an intermediary.

And that, to my mind, is what Pajamas Media should be, that intermediary. So much of the US newspaper business already works on syndication, from the OpEd pieces to the AP newswires reports, that we wouldn’t be asking people to try and absorb an entirely new idea. Just a new source of their lifeblood, cheap words that they can print tomorrow.

The competitors are not the mainstream media itself, that’s just a distribution channel. An internet portal is fine, futures on the value of ad space are possibly interesting, but the real model is Associated Press, the NY Times syndication service, Creators, UPI. Bloggers already create, every day, a volume of material that completely swamps the combined output of all of those together. Some of it is even worth reprinting for a wider audience.

As an example, don’t you think it would be a great idea to have someone working to get Michael Yon’s reportage syndicated across the newspapers? Given the pifling amount that each paper offers for a syndicated piece it simply isn’t worth it for one writer to try it, nor for an organisation to do it for such. But spread the overheads of the sales and editorial team over 100, 500, 5,000 of the best (which does not equate to the biggest, as we know, this isn’t manhood we’re talking about) producers of literate and informed blogging and there is the nucleus of a very interesting business.

It would also provide the infrastructure for those more occasional pieces provided by the Citzen Journalists that bring that gleam to the Puppy Blender’s eyes.

It might well be one that fails as well but it would, to my mind, be at least attempting to provide a valuable service, one I can see a clear need for and one with its own inbuilt revenue stream.

That is what I originally understood Pajamas was going to do and why I was so excited by it when it was first discussed. I also think that if they don’t do it someone else will. It might be one of the syndication services already extant which does so, might be someone with the contacts to raise some further VC money, but I would much prefer it to be PJM themselves.

Yes, I do have some further ideas about how it could be made to work but as I said at the top, this is a combination of well meant advice and a job application.

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Comments

Tim

Sounds like you have a great business idea. Why not do it yourself? You have a growing stature that will be helped by the book.

Why let the Americans do it first?

Posted by: EU Serf | Dec 1, 2005 12:12:03 PM

Alternet used to do this, but I can't remember why it didn't work. I suppose that blogs were much younger and less trendy then.

By the way, out of interest I've just refreshed the PJM page and Roger L Simon's page repeatedly to see what ads they have, and it appears to me that they are about 20% house ads for PJM and 80% ads for charities which I bet they have not charged for. Has anyone at all, at this point, in the words of the chaps on "Dragons' Den" paid money that they worked for, for PJM adverts?

Posted by: dsquared | Dec 1, 2005 6:06:28 PM

Ha, you've as a result got your own business model named after you..

http://www.blogbusiness.org/?p=16

Posted by: Bertie | Dec 2, 2005 12:16:29 PM

Really interesting post, Tim.

I hope it won't be too long before we get some info from the powers-that-be.

Posted by: Clive Davis | Dec 3, 2005 12:21:52 AM