Bit by bit, we're all becoming part of the Rev Share Economy.
I received a check in the mail the other day, oh boy. It was signed by my friend Larry Schwartz, impresario and president of Newstex, the aggregator start-up that smartly saw an opportunity around licensing blogs. In 2005, Larry went out and got re-distribution rights for several hundred blogs, including my modest Content Bridges. Newstex focuses on blogs that may be useful to business. He's now licensed the full-text blog feed to LexisNexis and CanWest's Infomart, a leading Canadian news store.
It's a rev share business, like so many others these days. LexisNexis and Infomart charge their customers for the content. They pay a fee or a revenue share to Newstex. I get a revenue share, based on usage. A rev share of a rev share.
My minor rev share is growing, but the first ones will only pay the price of a meal -- maybe a hearty breakfast with Larry, Paul Gerbino and maybe one other diner at the Carnegie Deli in New York City at the next SIIA event, where can talk about the intricacies of The Bagel and Lox Paradox. Luckily, Content Bridges provides more gainful and more direct compensation.
I got to thinking about this arrangement as I read about the Boston Globe's new contract with its newsroom workers, represented by the Guild. The pact ties future pay increases to this notion: year-over-year revenue increases at the Globe. If you've been following this story, you'll remember that the Globe -- really the New York Times Company, its owner -- first proposed that raises be tied only to revenue increases in the print edition. The Guild contested that, and won the inclusion of digital business increases. Though I find too much about the Boston.com site landlocked in the last century, that inclusion was an essential. The Globe, with its declining print revenues, has joined the tiny but soon-to-grow fraternity of metro dailies that actually lose money year over year. With print revenues in decline there, and largely flat-lining at metros nationally, the only immediate growth engine is online. That growth, which has run in the 30%+ range in recent years, looks like it will slow to the 20% range in '07. Still it's an upside. Put that upside together in Boston with the print downside though, and I wouldn't bet on Globe staffer increases in '07.
The fact that the Guild agreed to tie any pay to revenue at first surprised a lot of us. In our business, the connection between journalism and the dollar is always been a purposely murky one. As journalists, we've enjoyed the murk, and told our readers they profited from it. As managing editor in Saint Paul in the '90s, I remember taking umbrage when unhappy readers would critique a story or its play with the phrase, "you're just trying to sell papers." Uh, no, uh, yes, kind of, you know"; the editor's discomfort with mere commerce.
Of course, we were trying to sell papers, but in our American journalism, we've worked hard not to tie any specific piece of journalism, any one edition of a publication to money. As news executives, we became more comfortable with learning -- then talking -- the marketing talk, as long as we were talking about the enterprise more generally. Maybe that's the line -- between enterprise more generally (whether it's the Pioneer Press, the Boston Globe or Content Bridges) as compared to any specific story or post -- that will become more meaningful as we inch our way into the thicket of the Rev Share Economy. Or maybe newspaper people will become as comfortable with per piece compensation as the small legion of magazine free-lancers out there.
Of course, newspaper people aren't used to joys and sorrows of "at-risk" pay, used to the salaryman and salarywoman employ that we thought would last forever (or at least until retirement). Now, hundreds of riffed newspaper journalists -- I've talked to an uncomfortably large number of 50-something newspaper reporters suddenly forced to take stock of their real skills and real employability beyond their current jobs -- are feeling what at-risk means. They are learning how the new digital content world pays, on rev shares of this fee, and rev shares of how well a story "monetizes," tracked by actual readership.
In a sense, most newspaper journalists are becoming a more direct part of the Rev Share economy, due to the recent Yahoo/newspaper partnerships and Google/newspaper partnerships. What are those, other than complex rev share deals, in which some number of pennies per dollar from advertisers will trickle back down into newspaper coffers, helping cover newsroom salaries. (T-shirt to come?: "Will Write for Rev Share".)
Inevitably, our work, the work of any journalist, or writer, or creator, is rewarded or unrewarded, by a market somewhere. The markets used to be someone else's responsibility. Now the web has removed many, many middleman (and created some news ones like blog aggregators) while making somewhat more transparent what was once hazy. Newspaper and magazine journalists, bloggers, TV and radio reporters and technicians -- we're all being tossed into the thicket. When we look back, we'll see that the Newstex arrangements and the new Boston Globe contract are but early steps in learning new ways to practice an old craft.