Betaworks' John Borthwick thinks there's hope for media companies beyond ads
Google is culpable of spreading a myth that advertising is the only way for a media business to make money on the Web, but there are big online monetization opportunities yet to be fully realized, Betaworks CEO John Borthwick said at PandoMonthly in New York tonight.
For the decade starting at the turn of the millennium, Google ruled the Web as a kind of "benign dictator," Borthwick said, while emphasizing that it was not necessarily a bad thing. Google, after all, struck on a model that helped fund many businesses (including its own, rather handsomely). But it was unfortunate, he said, that PayPal was halted in its prime, scooped up by eBay before it had finished innovating. He asked: "What could have happened if browsers had integrated payments?"
As far as traditional ad-supported websites go, it's probably too late to hope for financial redemption. "Going to your website – a website that is a recycled version of your existing media property – and saying people are going to pay for that is a stupid idea," Borthwick said. But the Web is much bigger than just websites, and it's only getting bigger. The world of apps, for instance, is an "incredible ecosystem," he said, and Apple's App Store has proven that it can support real businesses.
There will be more opportunities to follow, he said, including with in-app purchases, which mobile gaming companies have taken full of advantage of. "The in-app purchases is a wonderful freemium alternative," he said. "It took Apple a long time to get that. In-app purchase stuff, subscription stuff, they’re still futzing around with it. I still think it’s got a long way to go."He said he's also fascinated by bitcoin and thinks it can become a "cryptocurrency" that will become important to the ecosystem Betaworks is building. For instance, the company is looking into ways that readers might be able to pay tips on Digg, in the same way that Reddit users can reward each other with "Reddit gold." And he's also attracted to the emerging currency because it has some of the "wildness" that was evident in the early days of the Web that has been wrung out in recent years.
None of that means bitcoin is going to save media companies, of course. But a currency that lives and flows on the Web is at least a bit more exciting than another banner ad.