For the first time in a long while, people with money are excited about the news business. Some are investing in it—most bounteously, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who bought The Washington Post for $250 million, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who has pledged the same amount to his new First Look Media; but also the executives at Disney-owned ESPN in Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, those at Vox Media in Ezra Klein’s planned wonkipedia, a bunch of top-shelf Silicon Valley venture capitalists in the publishing platform Medium, and lots of others.
People with money are talking about the news business, too. The venture capitalist and Web pioneer Marc Andreessen (who has investments in three digital news operations) unleashed a spirited discussion on Twitter early this year with his visions of a bright digital future for news.
At one point Andreessen offered up the “most obvious 8 business models for news now & in the future.” After listing today’s staples, (1) advertising and (2) subscriptions, he continued with (3) premium content (that is, “a paid tier on top of a free, ad-supported one”); (4) conferences and events; (5) cross-media (meaning that your news operation also generates books, movies, and the like); (6) crowd-funding; (7) micropayments, using Bitcoin; and (8) philanthropy. Nicholas Thompson, the editor of The New Yorker’s Web site and a co-founder of the digital sort-of-magazine The Atavist, chimed in with two more: (9) “while building product you’re passionate about, create software you then license widely!”—The Atavist’s approach—and (10) “fund investigative business stories + then short stocks before publishing,” a reference to the billionaire Mark Cuban’s controversial relationship with Sharesleuth.