It’s expensive to produce high quality, researched journalism. For media companies to produce quality content on a daily or weekly basis, they must hire and employ full time teams of editors and journalists along with various business functions to focus on distribution, advertising, management, and sales. As such, it’s no secret that traditional media has been struggling to find financially viable business models in the age of the internet, and this has opened the door for new players operating under different models to gain a foothold.
Companies such as Huffington Post pioneered contribution models where they could publish a lot of content that they didn’t actually have to employ anyone or pay anyone to acquire. Instead, they would tap into a network of experts or personal writers (bloggers), who would contribute content in exchange for the distribution that HuffPo could offer them. A blogger who’s an expert on pop music writes a post about pop music for HuffPo, and in exchange gets a link back to their blog and a byline under their name. Repeat hundreds of time per day across different verticals and you have a site full of high quality content that the media company paid for through management and recruitment of the contributor network, but not directly for the content itself. I believe that now, due to Steem, there’s a new model that media companies can use for content contribution that’s both more fair and economically viable for the contributing writers, cheaper for the media company, and ultimately resulting in higher quality content for the reader.
The way that this would work would be for a forward thinking media company to follow these steps.
- Commit a portion of their site (or entire site!) to be powered via Steem blockchain contributed content.
- Use a Steem enabled CMS to let editors manage placement of articles.
- Reward contributors via whale-sized upvotes, jumpstarting their content’s momentum and distribution across the Steem network and beyond.
Committing a portion of a media property to be powered by Steem
A publisher who’s looking to try this model doesn’t need to build on top of Steem from the ground up. Instead, they could test the waters by powering an appropriate portion of their site to user submitted content. A good example for a traditional media company like The New York Times would be to the Letters To The Editor section. A site like Pitchfork could dedicate a user submitted album reviews section to being powered by Steem. These sites could allow for contributor registration and ask the contributors to submit Steem usernames that are dedicated for this specific purpose, so that they could whitelist the contributor, and not get the rest of their Steem content confused with content meant to be contributed to this publisher. The publisher could promote that anyone wishing to make high quality submissions could do so by registering and submitting a Steem username, and that they would be compensated for their contributions according to the quality determined by the Steem network (showcasing examples of recent rewards that contributors on their site have earned).
Using a Steem enabled CMS
Content that goes onto the Steem blockchain is public and available in all clients, including Steemit.com. A site couldn’t just read the entire blockchain and display all content without any filtering - they would need a CMS to edit and manage the content that they choose to display. I’d envision this CMS being like a work-queue for editors and curators. They would see a list of all the recently published articles from whitelisted contributors, and perhaps see a separate list of contributions made by users who choose a specific tag such as nytimes-letter-to-editor-submission, which would allow for non-registered contributors to try their hand at getting something published. Editors would then use the CMS to select the submissions that they would like to be displayed on their property, and to place them in appropriate sections and locations. In an example like the NYTimes, very few pieces of content would actually be selected, but in other examples, via a well managed contributor network, almost all the submitted content could find a home as long as it passed a certain quality bar. All in all, this CMS would just be a gateway to the publisher’s traditional CMS (or built within it via a plugin), and Steem submitted content wouldn’t need to be treated any differently.
Rewarding contributors and promoting the network
Of course all submitted quality content on the Steem network has a chance of gaining attention and momentum on Steemit.com and earning large rewards there. This could be enough to compensate contributors to a specific site, however it would also be easy for a media company to incentivize additional rewards. The most direct way they could do this would be by investing in the Steem platform themselves and holding a whale-sized amount of Steem Power. Any contributor submitted content that was performing well on their property, they could upvote it to allocate a significant reward, as well as jumpstart its momentum across the Steem network. It would make sense for the publisher to hold Steem Power on their balance sheet as well, since their building on the platform should increase the exposure and network value of Steem itself, therefore driving the price of Steem up over the long run as more publishers come on board and adopt the same model.
Depending on how transparent and visible the publisher wanted to be, the Steem CMS could manage schemes for them by which their Steem Power was split over a fixed amount of accounts so that they could proportionately upvote content according to the number of pageviews, or likes, or in-site upvotes that the content got on their own platform as well, essentially dividing up rewards equitably. It of course depends on the amount of contributions and incentives that they want to provide to contributors, but various mechanisms could work. If they wanted to go really far, they could even cross promote Steem and encourage their readers to sign up and upvote content that they liked, therefore increasing the distribution and exposure of Steem itself and further creating value for their contributors and their invested cache of Steem Power.
What are the drawbacks?
Idealistically, the idea of media companies incentivizing 3rd party content contribution via the Steem protocol seems like a good concept, however there are a couple drawbacks that would need to be overcome.
First of all, the publisher loses content exclusivity. The contributors content would be viewable at Steemit.com as well as on any other client that built on top of the Steem blockchain. I think this should be solved via attribution: the top line in the post could say something like This article was originally written for example.com via the Steem contribution platform, and it could link to the original site. In the day and age of distributed native publishing on social platforms and within search results via AMP and the like, content is going to be distributed anyway.
Another drawback is the complexity and barrier to entry for the average person to understand all the economic incentives and primitives in Steem. Publishers would either have to abstract this away from their contributors or provide a really high level overview to let them understand that they could potentially be rewarded for high quality contributions, but the amount and volume of these rewards are indeterminate in advance.
Finally, how will the Steem community itself react to for-profit publishers building on top of the protocol which is meant to provide meritocratic rewards to independent contributors in a distributed way? Hopefully they’d react positively, as increased distribution of their protocol and more demand for Steem created by publishers looking to provide contribution incentives would create an increase in both the value and network of Steem. Open protocols are meant to be built upon for all different use cases, and this is a great example of crossing the gap from social content network proof of concept to high quality real world value.
What do you think? Would Steem based contribution incentives work for big publishers and media companies? Let me know if the comments or on twitter @petkanics.