Opinion

Will Renai LeMay’s new media business model work?

I’ve been curious for a few days now on what Renai LeMay’s plans are.

Since announcing he was leaving ZDNet, he’s been coy about what he’d be doing next.

Which of course made it all the more interesting.  

As we report today, he’s starting a tech website – Delimiter.

So far, so so-so. There are plenty of tech websites out there, including many independent ones.

But I find his model a fascinating one – and genuinely different.

One of the issues online content creators face is that a fair portion of what they do is commodotised – in the tech sector’s case,  everyone will be at the product launch. It’s got to be covered, but what reader would pay to read something when a dozen journos are present and they can see the basics elsewhere?

Of course, if ever a paid online content model is to work, it needs to add value for the reader. So it makes sense for the publisher to subscribe to a good-enough specialist newswire, and concentrate their resources on adding insight and value for their specific audience.

If enough people pay for it, then LeMay has a business model, and it’s another journalist who’s in independent, new media employment. This model does not even require a substantial audience for his own site.

The start-up costs are very low too. He’s working from home. And like Mumbrella, he’s on a WordPress platform and using the Constant Contact email service. Apart from his own time, I imagine it cost him less than $100 to launch. That’s about what it cost me to get started.

So it’s got possibilities.

Of course, that makes some assumptions – first, the content will need to be good enough, accurate enough and comprehensive enough. Having done it myself, I can tell you it’s tough (although not impossible) for a one man band to cover a big sector.

If he does it, he’ll have to be signle minded. This model demands, it seems to me, lots of fast, commodotised news. Writing opinion and insights will be a distraction from providing what his customers will want.

Then there needs to be the demand. Are there enough publishers who’d be willing to pay for the service?

And the price point would need to be correct. Would enough publishers pay nine grand a year?

What happens when he goes on holiday, or is ill? How will a service of a good enough standard continue? It’ll be hard to get a qualified journo on board who’s available to sit in at short notice, but that’s what paying customers would rightly demand.

But if it works, then it’s a model that could be followed by other specialist beat journalists, at which point it potentially becomes a genuine threat to the likes of AAP.

The question then is how AAP reacts if it sees subscriptions being eroded by such upstarts. Aggresively dropping the price is one possibility.

There are also lessons to be learned over the upheavals experienced by the New Zeland Press Association back in 2006.

And more than a decade ago when I worked in the UK, I was sent if not to Coventry, then to its Midlands near-neighbour, Leicester, by the regional daily paper I worked on.

A group of regional papers banded together to set up a cheap and cheerful national newswire service. UK News’s only intent was to drive down the subscription price charged to papers by the Press Association, the near-monopoly British national news supplier.

It only needed to be good enough that they could cancel their PA subscriptions and still have something to fill their national pages. All it took was a dozen or so journos sitting at a long table in a back office at The Leicester Mercury, writing fast. It worked – PA eventually dropped its prices, and National News closed.

So I don’t know at this stage if LeMay will be able to make it stick.

But it’s good to see somebody experimenting with another journalism business model. I’ll be watching very closely. So, I suspect, will many others.

Tim Burrowes

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