Ken Doctor is a writer, analyst, and consultant in the news media industry. His work focuses on the transformation of consumer media in the digital age and connects the dots between the news and entertainment we consume with the changing business of media organizations. He is the author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get, and he writes a popular weekly column called “Newsonomics Of” for the Nieman Journalism Lab.
We talk to Ken about the impact of COVID-19 on publishing, the balance between advertising and subscriptions, and the path to more sustainable business models.
You coined the term “Newsonomics”, and it’s the name of your website, book, and column. What is “newsonomics” all about?
I spent years in the newsroom as editor and managing editor. By the time 2005 hit, it seemed to me that there were many people at that point doing blogs and Opiney. But there weren’t people taking on the real question, which was money — the money that was needed to sustain and pay journalists. Out of that, I came up with the term “Newsonomics” and it has been the name of my work since then.
But now, the major platforms want to be able to capture even a portion of the subscription revenue by becoming the place from where readers subscribe.
Publishers, especially the major ones, are very wary of any kind of continuing or new disintermediation by the platforms. Google, Apple, Facebook all want to be that intermediary for clear commercial reasons. And while the publishers will play with those and see if they can get some incremental revenue, they know that what works is a direct relationship with a reading customer. If you can get $100 from somebody, it’s better than getting 15% of some kind of revenue pool that isn’t going to pay the journalists in the newsroom.