Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

5yrs - Lessons And Insights: Building A Better Mousetrap . . .

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 9, 2009

[5yrs: Lessons and Insights - a series of posts looking back at the five years since I left the Financial Times and my job as a columnist and reporter, to become a "journalist blogger" at SVW.]

When I worked at the Financial Times it was difficult to know who was reading the work of my colleagues and myself in the San Francisco bureau.

Occasionally I would bump into people who would tell me they had read one of my articles, but that was usually because they had read the paper on a recent plane trip. Generally, people on the East coast still read newspapers but on the West coast, they didn't. They might read the FT online but we had a paywall.

I remember trying to encourage my bosses to let my column be free for a while, so that I could help build an audience and then they could put it behind a paywall -- but that wasn't part of their plan.

I think it is fair to say that all journalists abhor a paywall because they want to be read as widely as possible. Journalists are the most enthusiastic proponents of "free" news despite how damaging that might be to their employers. It's a paradoxical position.

Market research to find your readers . . .

The FT management would occasionally commission market research studies and focus groups to figure out who was reading the newspaper and which sections.

For the FT this was a C-suite executive VP readership with an average salary of more than $250,000 and a net worth of at least $2 million. [If the market researchers knew FT journalists read the FT it would drag down the demographics.]

Outside the box...

When I started publishing SVW, I quickly found out who was reading my articles without the need for focus groups. I could see it in my comments, I could see who was discussing my content elsewhere, and lots of people I met would talk to me about my posts.

What was even more eye-opening was that my content was finding readers in places I didn't even know I had readers. If I wrote about a music service I would find my posts being discussed on DJ blogs. If I wrote about video mashups I would find an audience among communities engaged in video editing.

Print publications rarely find a readership outside of their designated focus groups.

On one occasion, there was a group of senior business leaders and academics from Asturias, a region in northern Spain, visiting Silicon Valley who wanted to meet with me and who were avid readers. I was elated.

Here was yet another insight: online content found its own audience rather than the other way around.

Finally, it was true: if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door.

- - -

Please see:

Tilting at the windmills of Web 2.0: A Spanish delegation visits Silicon Valley

I had a fascinating conversation a couple of Sundays ago with a visiting delegation of Spanish business and technology leaders from the region of Asturias, in Northern Spain.

I was very flattered and honored that in their very busy three-day tour of Silicon Valley's top companies, universities, and research institutes, they wanted to meet with me. This is one of the wonderful pleasures of my job, finding out that I have readers in places that I didn't know I had readers...!

Asturias is a former coal and iron mining region with about one million inhabitants and it is the fourth fastest growing IT region in the European Union. It has a rich, wonderful history, especially its role in the defense of the republic during the Spanish civil war . . .

Read the rest here...

Previous articles in this series:

5yrs: Lessons From A Blogger/Journalist - The Start of A Series

5yrs: Where's The Disruption From The Internet?

5yrs: Meeting Cisco's Dan Scheinman and Realizing Every Company Is Now A Media Company

5yrs: Wish Everyone Well . . .

5yrs: Where Have All The Blogs Gone?


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