Google Exec to Murdoch: “There Is No Silver Bullet”

Question: Has a hybrid model of free and paid content (with limited vs. full access) ever worked for publishers?

Josh Cohen: Sure. Well, I mean, I don't know the specific economics of it, but I think that The Wall Street Journal -- again I'll point to a News Corp property -- is a great example of -- you know, they are -- they do well in terms of traffic and their online advertising, and they also have a very healthy base of online subscribers. I think the challenge is -- again, going back to the idea the distribution model has changed -- you need to offer something of unique value to users if people are going to pay for it. Now, the Journal has great business reporting, things that you can't necessarily get anywhere else, the things that their readers rely on for -- from them -- as the source for this really crucial information, in this case information that makes them a lot of money. You see this as well with things like Bloomberg and Reuters that deliver directly to terminals and traders, information that people can profit from. Or again that they simply can't find anywhere else.

What will not work, I believe, on the Web is any sort of commodity information. I just don’t -- just personally, I don’t see that working on the Web, where before, if your competitive advantage was your means of distribution -- again using the Buffalo example -- I was the only place that you could get information on Buffalo, and now all that other information is a click away, and if it's all the same information, I think there are just too many sources out there, both traditional and new. But again, if as a source you have unique information that I can't get anywhere else, and the Journal, the FT, Consumer Reports -- all different examples of sites that have really valuable information for their end users -- I think there's a place for paid models.

Question: How would you advise Rupert Murdoch or other old-media executives to repackage their content successfully?

Josh Cohen: I mean, it really depends. There is no silver bullet for any and all news organizations, but it's -- and I admit it's somewhat vague to say, well, you know, what is uniquely valuable to your end users? But it's going to depend on -- you know, it can be local information -- so I'll keep using the Buffalo News example -- if this is the place where you have a community and information about Buffalo that I can't get anywhere else, great. But it doesn't have to be -- I mean, there's a lot of discussion about hyperlocal and, you know, the local advertising market, and so sure, local is one way to slice it. But it could just be -- you know, something else I've heard talked about is, you know, in New Jersey, all the pharmaceutical companies that are there. So maybe there's an opportunity -- sure, it can be New Jersey, but maybe it's also -- this is -- the area of interest there is pharmaceutical information.

Somebody at -- a person at Google named Bob Wyman who always sort of talks about this, and this sort of these different verticals that are there. So it's really about finding like what's the information I have, what's the talent set that I have? And it can be -- the content is obviously a big driver of it, but it's also the user experience too. Like how can I create an experience that people can't get anywhere else? So part of that can be community, part of that can be technology, so I mean, I think you're seeing this as well with different applications, whether it's the iPhone or android applications, they're things that people can't get anywhere else, which can be content, or it can be -- just means of how they interact with your content and information, how they interact with the rest of the users on your site.

Josh Cohen suggests how old media companies might successfully repackage their content, but warns that easy fixes are unlikely.

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