Free Markets, Free People

New Media feudalism?

Huffington Post was just sold to AOL for $315 million.  Good stuff.  An online media effort makes big bucks.

But David Carr throws out some interesting commentary about that and the online culture that does cause me to pause and think  about it.  The paragraphs that grabbed my attention were:

It will be interesting to see how the legions of unpaid bloggers at The Huffington Post react to the merger with AOL. Typing away for an upstart blog — founded by the lefty pundit Arianna Huffington and the technology executive Kenneth Lerer — would seem to be a little different from cranking copy for AOL, a large American media company with a market capitalization of $2.2 billion.

[…]

Perhaps content will remain bifurcated into professional and amateur streams, but as social networks eat away at media mindshare and the advertising base, I’m not so sure. If it happens, I’ll have no one but myself to blame. Last time I checked, I had written or shared over 11,000 items on Twitter. It’s a nice collection of short-form work, and I’ve been rewarded with lot of followers … and exactly no money. If and when the folks at Twitter cash out, some tiny fraction of that value will have been created by me.

He has a point.  Maybe not the one he thinks he has, but there is a point to be made here.  It’s one thing to labor away at a blog like QandO which is a personal decision and a labor of love.  I don’t do it for money nor do I expect to earn a living doing it here. If someone were to come along and offer a pile of money for the place, I’d take it, but it would be money I and the other bloggers earned by developing the place and writing here.

But what about those sites which encourage community, give bloggers access and then use the demographics (which bloggers helped create) to actively sell advertising and raise revenue?  And, like HuffPo, what if they sell?

Well, without out legal agreement that your participation is worth x amount in either area (advertising or a sale) you haven’t a leg to stand on.  You agreed to whatever stipulations they had in place when you entered your first post, if there even were any.

So what happens now with HuffPo?  The paid bloggers/journalists will most likely continue to be paid.  But what about the bulk of bloggers/diarists/citizen journalists there?  Will they continue to write?

I mean that’s a big change.  Those that have helped build that sites reputation now know what their work built.

So will they be willing to continue on adding to its value without compensation?  Or will they demand a piece of the pie or withhold their content?

And if they do withhold their content, will others be willing to step forward and take their place.

HuffPo also has the argument that all of the value isn’t to be found in the contributions of the bloggers/diarists/citizen journalists there.  And that’s probably true – but HuffPo (and now AOL) can’t deny part of the value must be contributed to them.

The point of all of this is it changes, fairly dramatically, the thinking of many who participate online in a “free” capacity helping build a brand.  HuffPo definitely has a brand.  

You have to ask then, what are AOL’s expectations for non-paid bloggers?  And, on the other side, are non-paid bloggers willing to continue working for nothing but adding value to AOL’s brand?

Interesting questions, interesting times.  For whatever reason I keep hearing the “echo” of “union” floating around.  Hopefully bloggers will avoid anything like that – a loose federation or association would serve as well, but I have to say, if bloggers are adding value to a site such that a 2 million dollar investment can grow to 315 million, they ought to have an understanding going in that they get a share in compensation for their contribution – or not.  Their choice.  But there should be a choice.  And a smart entrepreneur is going to attract the brightest and best by providing one.  And such a site or sites would keep the “feudal” sites from becoming more prevalent than they are today.

~McQ

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35 Responses to New Media feudalism?

  • The world of more equal and less equal animals.
    As Ed Driscoll notes…
    http://pajamasmedia.com/eddriscoll/2011/02/14/its-george-orwells-world/

  • If HuffPo have accumulated as much content as they have without paying for it, then the demonstrated market value of that kind of content, direct from the producer without any marketing/distribution value-adds, is zero.

    • I’m not arguing otherwise – I’m pointing out now that a value has been established will those who provided content withhold it in an attempt to see if it diminishes the value, thereby establishing their value? And if so, and they’re able to do so, will they demand that to write for HuffPo/AOL? And will HuffPo/AOL be willing to pay that (assuming they agree that they add value and should have some sort of compensation for that)?

      • I’m predicting that with a going price of zero, either the writers will accept that zero and like it, or other fungible writers will take it instead.

        • Yes, the ‘honor’ of the whole thing you know.  And, for once, I’m being serious.

        • I keep hearing about “free internships” as the “wave of the future” .. from those on the recieving end no doubt.

  • So… Arianna isn’t going to redistribute that $315 million, the way a good progressive would?

    • I believe Jaw Jaw Gabor MARRIED money…and I have not seen her tripping over herself to pass it out.

    • Heh … not really my point but I like yours anyway.

    • She does her progressive part by urging us to vote for people who’ll take our money and give it to rich people who own wind farms.

    • Apparently, Huffington Post had investors.  I saw that her “cut’ was less than 10% of the take, one post said $15 million which is like 5%, which explained why she stayed on with AOL.
      Oddly enough, I finally terminated my paid “subscription” with AOL which dated back to 1995 and went to the $0 plan on the day of the sale.  It’s amazing what a little press can do for those who procrastinate.

  • Man, think how much Erb’s contributions reduce the net value here!

  • There’s something not right about that price for that outfit.

    I have to wonder if, for starters, AOL isn’t a straw buyer.

    • I’ll cut to the quick.  I believe it was a payoff to Huffington and the HP leadership for a ‘propaganda’ job well done.  They aren’t exactly Daily Kos, but more of a gateway drug and/or a bridge to making the crazies not look as crazy. 

      This is a way of not making the payoff overt and therefore defensible.  I would be surprised if the actual buyer is Soros as a guess. 

      • !!!!Conspiracy!!!!
         
        I’ll wager that it is the Koch brothers.
         
        Oh, wait.  Wrong side of the bat-sh!t crazy conspiracy spectrum.  My bad.

        • Well I know Bruce wishes it did, but does the dollar amount really make sense?
           
           

        • I picked up on a memo written at their founding a few days back, which expressly called for enough anodyne content to assure they were not OBVIOUSLY a Collectivist operation.
          You might want to noodle that out.

        • As far as conspiracy, well from the beginning they were funded by Soros, the guy who along with other investors he has organized, has funded the radicalization of the Democrat Party.
           
          We’re only quibbling about whether this is a payoff or not.

  • A singular thougt comes to mind regarding the monetary value of blogs, social networks et al.

    B U B B L E

    • Can say about Blogs or News Websites, but unfortunately I have to disagree on the social networks thing. 

      SN holds little/no appeal for me.  Its popularity puzzled me for some time.  But I look at who is interested and what SN provides and I’ve come to the conclusion that SN supports High School Social Scene outside of High School and also supports recreating that scene Post-High School. 

      So as long as you have people mentally and emotionally stuck in High School mode, you’ll have social networking. 

      Its partly why it caught on first at College level.  College can’t quite support the same dynamic as High School.  But some people haven’t made the transition.  SN was like going back to what they knew. 

      • Yes, but it also helps to keep up with friends who are far away. I think its more than just high school, but your insight made me think about what I see on facebook and I agree.

    • You have to wonder if traffic at Huffington dropped off after the last election disaster for Progressives.

  • They always said that “content” will be “King”

  • McQSo what happens now with HuffPo?  The paid bloggers/journalists will most likely continue to be paid.  But what about the bulk of bloggers/diarists/citizen journalists there?  Will they continue to write?

    Yes, for much the same reasons that many blogs have regular commenters: people like to voice their opinions and know that others are reading them, even if it is only to disagree / argue.  It MIGHT give a few lefty bloggers a moment of pause to know that they are providing free content / labor to a huge (eeeevil) corporation, but I think they’ll get over it in a big hurry.  “So… I don’t get paid for providing you with what amounts to a regular column?  That sucks.  But… I still get to write about how much Bush sucks and how wonderful Obama is?  I’ll take that deal!”

    jpm100I look at who is interested and what SN provides and I’ve come to the conclusion that SN supports High School Social Scene outside of High School and also supports recreating that scene Post-High School. 

    Excellent point.  I don’t do the Facebook thing (why would anybody want to read about what I’m doing through the course of my day?  It’s pretty boring, usually…), but I know people who do, and many of them are recreating high school, even to the point of getting back in touch with their friends from those days of yore. 

    • Even better, the free writers are now writing for AOL…wow, they have hit the big time. I figure 90% probably hope to use their free writing to get a gig, gild their resume, etc.

  • AOL apparently paid 315 million, and promptly lost 315 million in stock value within 24 hours.
     
    As for a blogger union…BAH!  Secret society is the way to go! We all need decoder rings!

  • Seems to me that its a bad move for a large company to throw its towel so blatantly into the political arena. Its like having Lockheed start purchasing Conservative Milblogs. It just seems sorta odd and the left would cry foul in a heartbeat. So is HuffPo now a corporate shill?

    • You have to understand the lefty philosophy that Corporations that they like really aren’t Corporations when they’re talking about Corporate evil.  The same paradigm is used when people on the left rale about ‘Rich people’.  Its is given that they are NOT talking about George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Ed Schultz, Barbara Streisand, Robert Redford, etc, etc, etc because THOSE rich people are in a special class that permits them to have wealth, but not be considered ‘rich & evil’.  They are the Robin Hood Rich, as the Baron of Loxley WAS a member of the nobility you know, but not a BAAAAAAAD member of the nobility.
       
      They are unable to see the inconsistency in the labeling, it’s pure cognitive dissonance, the same sort that permits them to continue to use violent verbal imagery, belittle black conservatives, outspoken female conservatives, and on, and on, and on.
      (we call it hypocrisy, they don’t see it).