Bust blamed on lack of Marxist economists

August 1st, 2002

According to the New York Times, “more Internet users are showing a willingness to pay for content online”.

I’ve never bought the argument that people were unwilling to pay for content online. Its been a convenient collective excuse for the failure so far to create meaningful online publishing ventures. I feel like I can safely say this, because I’ve been paying for online content for years.

And the best example of this is Zmag, and the Zmag sustainer program. Its not like most other attempts I’ve seen. Its not slick, its not run by the web savvy, its cheap, and charges on a sliding scale, and most of the content is donated. And its been wildly successful. Prompting Rabble to observe on several occasions, “The dotcoms failed to monetize their content because they lacked Marxist economists on staff.”

A different model

I think there is some truth to that. Also, Z is an old, and strong brand in a niche market, with strong community ties. Those aren’t unrelated facts. You don’t get that strong brand, and community ties with a venture capital driven business model, you get it through community organizing. My father likes to tell me , “Every dollar of your own money you put into [your project], is a missed opportunity. Because once someone has given you a dollar they have an investment in your survival, they are on the inside.” This is just as true for VC funds, as your own.

There is also a question of what success is. ZMag’s horizons are farther out, and their operating costs are lower, so their definitions of wildly successful are easier to attain. I’m not sure because it works for Z, its going to work for Salon.

A Hollywood Metaphor

Parallels can be drawn with an argument I once heard that ran something like “We have to keep the current regime of intellectual property, and copyright, because its necessary to make Hollywood movies.” Seems the studios can’t recuperate the losses from making a blockbuster movie with them. To me the solution seems to be, make different types of movies, to Hollywood its spend more on advertising, cross tie-ins, product placements, and buying senators to right DRM into law. I think Men in Black II would be a small sacrifice.

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