Friday, 12 February 2010

Jack Matthews, Fairfax Digital CEO, was interviewed by yesterday and it's a very interesting recording that, in about 17 minutes, covers a fair stretch of new ground. He spoke with Sean Greaney.

JM: Clearly, social media is no longer a phenomenon. It's a basic part of the media landscape and we need to have a way to utilise that to our benefit. We're not going to do that by trying to replicate Facebook.

SC: So the future of Fairfax Media is to become more niche?

JM: I've said for some time that the advantages of big news organisations like Fairfax -- and News Ltd would fall into this category as well -- is that we have the ability to be both broad and deep. The old portals, you know, the walled-garden type portals, were very broad but not very deep, because those portals didn't actually create content themselves.

This underscores the fact that social media has got news companies on the run. I wonder if anyone else felt that Matthews' voice went a bit husky at this point under the strain of its own momentum? Do you feel a sense of frustration?

Let's just return to what Matthews said immediately after the above.

Clearly, the rise of search has led to the atomisation, or the disaggregation, of information. That has given rise to depth - you know, very narrow, deep sites. I think that companies like Fairfax can combine the best of both. We can have big networks of lots and lots of people. But when you're in our network we have the capability of delivering to you very, very deep, kind of more niche, or micro sites built around a specific community.

It seems that Fairfax doesn't actually know how to monetise content in the context of social media platforms, especially considering the way people on them select what they want to read. The flexibility metaphor he uses contains a breath of whishful thinking.

And I wonder what are those "micro sites built around a specific community" he talks about? Are they bulletin boards - a technology and a social media solution that has been around, more or less, for 20 years? Will Fairfax set up moderated BBs to cater to those "like minded" individuals? Surely not.

Does this mean social media has to do with like mindedness? Isn't microblogging site Twitter about talking with real people in real time.

Greaney's next question, about monetisation, lets us know exactly where Fairfax stands. It's all about protecting transaction revenues. Matthews says in the interview that royalties from transactions are actually higher than those coming from display ads. This is the main reason why Fairfax has said nothing about paywalls, unlike noisy News Ltd.

And in future? Matthews says that most of the company's present development effort is being channelled into mobile devices. I wrote a post about the Fairfax iPhone app announcement a few days ago.

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