More Thoughts On The Demise Of New Matilda

May 27, 2010 — 4 Comments

I popped my head up and gave my 2 cents worth this morning on The Inquisitr on the demise of New Matilda, and not surprisingly shots came in 🙂

I mean this in all sincerity: I’m sad to see the demise of one of the best independent commentary sites in Australia. I wasn’t a daily reader as such, but I’ve read enough of it over the years to know that we were all better off for it existing.

But you’ll have to forgive me when I get pissed off when sites blame advertising and unproven “new media models” for a failure to cover costs.

First: you own your fail. There’s no disgrace in failing. 90% of all small businesses fail. Some things work, some don’t. But you don’t blame the market because you couldn’t run the business at profit, or at least cover costs for six years. You go to the market and sell your product/ service, and if that doesn’t work, you change your model. The market doesn’t change to fit you.

I’m particularly riled at excuses such as “The big media players are struggling to find a workable online business model that allows them to pay their writers and maintain high standards — and so are we.”

There’s nothing hard about covering your costs and living within your means. There’s nothing hard about knowing if you’re doing the same thing for 3 or 6 years, and it isn’t working, you change the model or you get out before burning more money.

And seriously, an independent Australian media outlet quoting the lies of Rupert Murdoch on new media models? The same lies spread by the likes of former Crikey editor Jonathan Green who claims in speeches that there’s no money in new media?

There’s plenty of money to be had in new media, in all shapes and sizes. Only this week, True/Slant sold to Forbes in the United States; I pick that example in particular because True/Slant had a similar high quality focus to New Matilda, and had been operating for only 13 months. The likes of the Huffington Post are profitable, and there are many sites in the United States at various points throughout the quality scale making money, some of them serious money.

There are, I should add, more than a few Australian sites making money as well, although given the constant new media is bad meme from the mainstream media, you’d never know about it.

And here’s the little secret: there’s more money in quality advertising in Australia at the moment than the United States, at least from the people I’ve been talking to.

I’m not suggesting that it’s easy in Australia; scale is bloody hard because of the population. But likewise we wouldn’t have seen the likes of News, Fairfax and ABC rush into this online commentary space last year if all they all thought it would lose them serious money.

Here’s how I would have fixed New Matilda

1. Introduce an AAP feed so there’s more general news on the site. You have to scale, and the broader news would have subsidized the commentary stuff. I’m not suggesting turning the site into News.com.au, but there’s plenty of room there for complimentary AAP content.

2. Pay writers less, or put them on performance related pay: I know that’s harsh to the writers, and I know most are deserving of top dollar, but likewise New Matilda isn’t a charity, but seemed to be operating as one.

3. Broadscale user contributions: New Matilda has always had guest posts, but nothing of serious scale such as The Punch, National Times etc. Take the Huffington Post model, and open the door to more. The best stuff goes on the front page, the other stuff is there on site somewhere. If you had a little spare cash, incentivise it a bit with any of a number of models.

4. Better advertising: if you can’t get top dollar for ads, run network ads. New Matilda is showing multiple iTunes affiliate ads at the moment. I’m not saying ads have to be trashy, but likewise you don’t get to keep a stiff upper lip on ad sales when you’re bleeding money either.

Actually, I hope someone buys New Matilda and turns it into an Australian Huffington Post. I like the brand, I like the content, but it needs to be scaled, and scaled quickly, and the only way to do that is to increase the readership base.

This country needs a Huffington Post, and I’d be following that model now if I had the money to do so (we’ve been profitable for a long time, but my yacht in Greece was sadly canceled by the GFC 🙂 ). Someone should, it’s a great business opportunity waiting to happen.

4 responses to More Thoughts On The Demise Of New Matilda

  1. There are good and bad things always happen in the Media world. I had experience it.

  2. This is an insightful piece. As someone who simply provides and does not position content, I found it useful. From a personal experience, though, I'd add that NM suffered not only from an online illiteracy but the deeper problem of being sniffy and elitist.
    I'm sure you've contracted, as I have, to companies who view their product as a sort of web-nation whose user-citizens should be happy not to travel. The problem with this is: everyone wants to travel online. Even, these days, my mum. If a site doesn't actively encourage this sort of tourism, its citizens will often defect.
    In eschewing the tactics you've listed above – and, surely, a good consultant would have come up with a similar laundry list for them – NM was doing what the trad portion of the left has long done so well: ignoring everyone else.
    Pravda was never going to work.
    While I concur there were some good pieces, there were also a lot of ploddingly, predictably ordinary ones, as well. I don't think any framework or dynamic architecture could change the fact that a lot of the shit on the site read like it had been written by an Organ of the Party.
    For me, this end is principally evidence of the ongoing failure of lefties to be interesting That upsets me. We need to splice Guy Rundle's DNA into the hearts of young writers and sell them to the new New Matilda.
    I do hope there will be one, incidentally. Perhaps you can help them get it right.
    Anyhow. Thanks. It was good to read this amid all the “the market is so harsh” palaver. WTF is it with Australians and online anyhow? DO we just spend all our time on facebook?

  3. Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing them

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