After all the burnt fingers from the .com bubble, one thing has been taken on board by those valuing internet start-ups: don’t assume it’s worth anything until someone is prepared to pay good money for it. Well, someone at AOL has decided that it is worth paying rather a lot of good money to buy the Huffington Post – more than 300 million US Dollars’ worth of it.
Quite apart from the achievement of co-founder Arianna Huffington, who is now effectively in charge of all content from the merged group, this should tell us something about the value of free-to-access web content versus the paywall approach touted by Rupe and his troops of late.
Murdoch has put the Wall Street Journal, Times, and Screws behind a paywall, and the official line is that all is well, but the seemingly never ending one-quid-for-a month’s-trial introductory offer suggests otherwise. Arianna not only disagrees with the Murdoch approach, but has said so in forthright terms.
Her speech to a journalism conference in Washington DC back in December 2009, titled “Journalism 2009: Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, And The Desperate Need For Better Journalism” stands re-appraisal in the light of the tie-up with AOL. The Murdoch empire had, she noted, painted the HuffPo as “parasites”, “constant kleptomaniacs”, “vampires”, and thieves who “steal all our copyright”.
The references were to the aggregating of content – but, as Arianna pointed out, everyone does that, even Rupe and his troops. That, together with linking to content, quoting from it, appraising it and using it as the basis for yet more content, is what the new media is all about. As she put it, it’s “part of the web’s DNA”.
I congratulate Arianna on her achievement, and commend her article to anyone doubting the approach she has taken. Rupert Murdoch may have been good at the old media, but the new version may be beyond him. Here’s hoping.