After having yet another run-in over payment with one of my writing clients, I took another look at syndication as a source of revenue.
The lesson wasn't fun.
So far, the only buyers of syndicated material have been small commercial sites (mainly b2b sites) looking for some cachet. That means they buy headlines and wire copy from name brands. They're not interested in differentiating themselves. They're interested in looking as legitimate as possible. And things like headline searches and stock price crawls do that, at minimum cost.
While the sites of iSyndicate and Screaming Media still look pretty, and both have long lists of content on offer, it's usually the same content, and it's usually the same-old same-old content. Columns created from passion find it a tough sell.
A PBS feature by Howard Kurtz does a great job of explaining the problem. There are two kinds of people, those who are on TV regularly and those who aren't. Those who aren't, no matter how brilliant, can't get a hearing in secondary markets like speech making. Those who are on TV are rendered corrupt by the cashing-in process. No wonder the "punditocracy" is solidly behind Bush, he writes. The speeches put them all in that "top 1%" due for most of the goodies from a Bush Administration.
I'm beginning to wonder, in fact, if a Bush victory wouldn't be just the kind of tonic Internet users need to get serious about politics again. While Clinton and Gore have not been overly friendly toward Internet freedom, the Bush people are downright antagonistic (unless you're talking about freedom for big corporations). It may take real repression, and real suffering, at the hands of a completely Clueless government to wake those online to the fact that this stuff matters, even to us. Lose your choices, lose your rights, and maybe you'll stop taking them for granted and start fighting for them.
On issues like Napster, mandatory filters for the poor, and anonymity the interests of ordinary users are firmly on one side, those of big business on the other. When the power of government is put firmly, and seriously, on the side of big business, perhaps then a reaction will come. Young voters care about these issues, and they haven't been discussed in the 2000 elections, as I've said many times. Maybe losing what is taken for granted is necessary for activism to begin. It's sad to think of the opportunities lost by that, but it's a good tonic for complacency.
The preceding political rant does bring us back to the subject. Strong businesses and the writers who serve them can dominate a unified culture. A counterculture, on the other hand, rejects those same writers and seeks out alternatives. One thing President Bush can give us that President Gore can't is a counterculture, an angry, boiling opposition, based on the principles of personal liberty and independent thought on the Internet. (Gore would co-opt it even while opposing it.)
Writing for the counterculture won't be the easy way to make a living, but it will be a living for many voices that aren't heard today.
I'll be at ISPCon during early November in San Jose, looking for clues to broadband access questions for my Boardwatch feature. I hope to see you there.
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I write daily for ClickZ. I write monthly for NetMarketing and Boardwatch. I've been in Advertisi000ng Age and the Chicago Tribune . Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. Twice each month I'm at OneChannel.Net and I've recently joined the staff at ISPWorld. You can always buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Takes on the News
Fall of the Standard
I'm not talking here about the magazine, although that may be next. I'm talking instead of the breathless, winner-take-all coverage The Industry Standard represents.
To the Standard, everything interesting is happening in either San Francisco or New York (sometimes Washington, sometimes Los Angeles). The news is what VCs and investment bankers say it is.
But the Internet revolution is ongoing, far from the centers of power and pretense. We don't need a Wall Street miracle. We don't need new rules. We just need to keep on keeping on.
A great example of this problem can be found in the Standard's coverage of Martin Wygod's takeover of WebMD . This actually happened six months ago, when WebMD bought Wygod's companies, their chief competitors, and made him co-CEO with young Jeff Arnold. While the air went out of the stock balloon Wygod quietly put all his friends into top slots, isolating Arnold (and Standard cover boy Jim Clark) from the reins of corporate power.
Instead of having a revolutionary powerhouse based in Atlanta, medicine now has an evolutionary friend in Elmhurst Park, NJ, one it has worked with for decades. Wygod formerly ran Medco Containment, now part of Merck. He's quite likely to trade equity for entrance into the computers of managed care and drug companies that now dominate medicine. Young WebMD threatened them -- old Marty embraces them. His strategy was more likely to win in either case, and his old companies actually had positive cash flow, something WebMD (with its penchant for flashy ad campaigns) never achieved.
Wygod knew this was a no-lose deal when he made it (although the Standard remained mystified). Had the stock price held up, he had three times more out of his assets than they were worth. With the stock price falling, he gets the whole market.
When faced with a choice between a 30-year old naif and a 60-year old veteran with a track record, only a fool would bet on the naif. The Standard never knew Marty was in the game until it was over, and then didn't understand him.
The hoohurrah over workers avoiding dot-coms is real. I personally ran a great opening in Internet journalism by a half-dozen people at the local newspaper, and found no takers. They all questioned, sight unseen, whether the company at issue would survive. (It will.)
But the idea that people moving from dot-coms to "real" companies no longer care about the Internet is nonsense. It reminds me of the story of a friend of mine, David Klein . David was my editor at "Interactive Age," in 1994-95. He was my "rabbi" within the company - he greased the wheels of power and made sure I was listened-to. When the magazine folded, he drifted around within CMP Media for a time (he was briefly editor of "Information Week") but finally moved back to his old employer. He became group editor of "Advertising Age," and last year added publisher to the title. This means he also has charge of magazines like "B2B", formerly the NetMarketing supplement to Business Marketing.
When I met David at Internet World following his move (he also wanted to get back to Chicago, where Crain is based) he explained it this way. "I have fire," he said. By that he meant he'd discovered some important stuff about where things were heading, knowledge he proceeded to apply (to Crain's great benefit).
But you need (as Paul Harvey might say) the rest of the story. While David clearly improved AdAge's New Media coverage, he retained the old economy attitude that a magazine should be news-driven. That's no longer enough. An online leader must also be a teaching community. It must be a place where the best and brightest offer and defend their ideas, an intellectual marketplace where takes are tested and leadership is revealed. ClickZ built a $16 million business in two years on David Klein's failure to see the next evolutionary stage.
Your Clue is simple. Lightning is always striking, fires are always starting, and you have to keep tracking them to stay current.
Why I Vote Gore
I have no doubt Al Gore would be a better president than George W. Bush. Gore's no prize - he's wooden, pedantic, self-serving, and obnoxious. He's like the geek at the dance that just can't do the hustle no matter how he tries. But he does know the words to the song, and he knows what they mean.
GW Bush, on the other hand, is the idiot in the letter sweater who also runs the local fraternity. He's never suffered, never thought for himself, and has gotten by on his daddy's name and contacts. Dana to Earth - Dubya's daddy was no great shakes either. Daddy Bush sold his soul for power, selling out all his principles to become Reagan's running mate and heir apparent. And when Daddy reached the pinnacle (after the Iraq war) he had nothing to offer - nothing! Bush, in other words, is a pale imitation of a failure.
The only arguments I've heard for Bush are ideological statements, which are not worth arguing, or personal attacks on Gore's character, mostly aimed at Clinton. Me, I hate Clinton the human being with a passion. But I can't hold the dress stain against the VP, and his loyalty then only means he's not the incumbent now. But I digress.
This is a profound choice for the Internet economy. The second Clinton Administration, of whom Gore is an integral part, has given us FCC chairman William Kennard, David Boies' campaign against Microsoft, and a general hands-off attitude toward Internet content. Bush promises domination by the Bellheads and Cable HeadEnds, content restrictions (and sanctions against small ISPs who don't control things like Gnutella that they can't control), and a laissez faire attitude that thinks money is speech when, in fact, money is just money.
Gore is even better for the rich, because he invests the surplus with people who will spend it on things that grow the economy (and keep the surplus growing). Bush offers to pay out the surplus in dividends, with shares based on whomever paid-in the most. If you think this country is a tobacco or newspaper company, join Dubya on his "bridge to the 19th century." If you think our shared enterprise can still invest for growth, you have no choice but Gore, despite his faults.
Clued-in is Rodney Joffe. I've always wanted to write that, but just never had the chance before. My apologies go to Rodney for my past failures to admit the obvious.
Clueless is Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, who accused government sites of violating privacy rights by using cookies, which don't carry personally identifiable information. Muddying technology waters for political gain is always a short-term value. I favor long-term values.
A Special Mention. Last week I named John Bates of Bigwords.com has Clued-in and described his talk in detail as our main column. This week I read Bigwords.com has reportedly gone under. A Clue doesn't guarantee success, and while marketing is important, it's not the only job a company has to do. You can have great marketing and still fail if you don't execute.
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