MEDIA PROFILE: Stories on how the news is delivered interest PaidContent.org

PaidContent.org is a free news site for media outlets that deliver online content. But it looks at ideas on content delivery and who's behind them in lieu of the old debate on free versus fee.

PaidContent.org is a free news site for media outlets that deliver online content. But it looks at ideas on content delivery and who's behind them in lieu of the old debate on free versus fee.

There have been much bigger, much flashier online journalism operations than PaidContent.org, a site focused on the question of how companies make money on the content they provide. Rafat Ali, the site's founder, realizes this firsthand. He worked at Inside.com, the media news venture with a star-studded masthead, and at the Silicon Alley Reporter, the glossy chronicle of New York's share of the internet boom. But one thing those higher-profile but defunct places didn't have that Ali does is a sustainable business model. That that model comes partially from the fact that his office is just a few feet from his bed in his London home doesn't bother him a bit. And why should it? The economically designed site with its small but growing audience of online media executives has attracted enough ads, mainly from software vendors, to allow Ali to devote his full attention to it. He's even considering hiring staff for two sites - on mobile content and digital music - that have grown out of the main one. Even though he doesn't charge visitors to read the stories he posts, in the year or so he's been running PaidContent, Ali has become one of the few to turn blogging into a business. His success comes not from punditry, but from a set of traditional news values. "Even though I use blog technology, I'm not your typical, opinion-driven blogger," he says. "It's a news site. I try to bring journalistic rigor to it. That's what I've strived for." PaidContent has about 2,500 subscribers for its daily newsletter, which contains the content of the site. The site gets about 10,000 page views a day. Ali's readership is "a small but still-growing list of people that are very influential," says Stephen Newman, deputy GM of NYTimes.com. And the stories he pursues are just as focused. "It's very, very specific and highly-targeted," says Laura Goldberg, an account supervisor at Trylon Communications. "He covers the ideas that are bandied about with regard to the paid versus free content models." That doesn't mean that just any press release on some new technology or on a website going subscription will make the cut. Ali's requirements are much more specific: He's interested in how media companies are using mobile technology to deliver content and in multimedia subscription services. He's also curious about who's backing what ideas. For instance, a recent story on BitPass, a micropayment company, caught his attention largely because it's being backed by Guy Kawasaki, of Apple fame. "The fact that he was backing that company made it news," Ali says. Ali closely follows the movements of big players, such as the online operations at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and multimedia giant Real Networks, among others. "His range of topics is broad, but not too broad," says Newman. He adds that these developments are also tracked by "all the usual suspects, but not with the singular focus that Rafat has." "Rafat has done a good job of keeping the site focused on news of interest to those working on online business models, yet has been open to expanding the content mix beyond just paid content," says Neil Budde, who was the founding editor and publisher of WSJ Online and now works as a consultant. "He recognizes that charging for premium services is only a piece of the model, and deals with other ways in which people can generate revenue from valuable content and customer relationships." Though PaidContent.org has become a must-read for online bigwigs, it began with modest intentions, as part of Ali's "quest to find a better job." That quest began during the final, floundering days at the Silicon Alley Reporter, when he was pretty sure he would end up getting laid off. Instead, he moved to London and turned his attention to his website, which quickly became an advertising target for software companies eager to peddle their subscription software to media companies. Ali tries to steer clear of covering these companies. "I don't necessarily cover vendor news, which means I don't necessarily cover media technology," he says. "I cover media news." Ali also includes commentary and analysis on his site, but tries to stay away from too much of the first-person. "People always debate free versus fee. I don't think that's the debate. Whatever works for you is what's best for you. I don't advocate paid-content models." But that doesn't stop people from asking the obvious question about PaidContent being free. "I'm just reporting on it," he tells them. "How I run the business is different altogether." ----- Contact list PaidContent.org Tel (+44) 208-55-88663 E-mail rali@paidcontent.org Editor and publisher Rafat Ali

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