The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Thursday, July 09, 2009

More on T&FN and the Web

I hadn't planned to extend the thoughts on my previous post, but I will.

Yesterday's Fresh Air on NPR was pretty much completely taken up by one interview. The segment was called The New Price Point? 'Free' and was with Chris Anderson, former U.S. business editor at The Economist and now editor-in-chief at Wired magazine.

He notes that the main business model for the internet--free content paid for by advertising--is a very old one, at least as old as radio. And it works, but only if the audience is large enough or targeted enough, and even then it's not a viable model for small companies.

What has become increasingly common is a model called freemium. This is where most content is free, but a smaller number of users gain premium content for a fee. This combines ad revenue and subscriber revenue, neither of which would be enough on their own. The Wall Street Journal's website follows this model.

It's possible to keep too much content for premium-users only. A few years ago the New York Times found this out the hard way; the problem was that they had some of the most popular political columnists in the country. Demand for the columns was so high that people pirated the stuff and posted it all over the internet. So you don't want to keep too much content behind a firewall, because then no one will pay up.

Trackshark could not have done a freemium model. It was one guy, Tom Borish, doing all the work himself (along with the help of part-time volunteers). He just could not produce enough content, nor was he established enough, to have anything worth keeping behind a firewall.

There is, however, a well-established company that could exploit the freemium model, Track & Field News. In a way, they already do. Magazine subscribers get a weekly results newsletter. But it could be a lot better. For example, the issue that came today has the headline "All you need to know about the NCAA Champs" on the cover. I don't care about that, because it happened several weeks ago.

Here's how the e-mail system could work: all copy, no compiled results. Most of us already checked out the results before the .pdf newsletter ever got to us. What comes in the mail should not be looking back, because it will always be old news. The print mag should be features, interviews, previews, and so forth.

Besides the e-mail newsletter, T&FN has 61 years of amazing things available. Sitting on their servers are complete results of every US championship since 1878, every NCAA championship since 1921, and the impossible-to-find AIAW championships of 1969-1982. All free for the taking by anyone. Unfortunately, none of it has been updated in years, and neither have their voluminous World Rankings data. The staff's computers are overflowing with amazing data that really hasn't seen the light of day. All of this is stuff that many people who have no interest in the print mag would pay for.

T&FN, as well as most niche publications, should stop thinking about giving things away when you subscribe to the magazine. They should start thinking about giving the magazine away when you subscribe to the website.

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