has the scoop: Slate is planning to launch a new site next year, "devoted
exclusively to business news and opinion". Slate editor David Plotz is
quite right to say that "there’s an opening for a really smart, analytical,
opinionated Web site that could be Webby and fast and agile". What’s more,
that space, which was very empty at the beginning of this year, could fill up
very rapidly, to the benefit of all concerned.
Of course, this is the space where portfolio.com lives, and this website is
doing very well indeed: check out its
performance relative to ft.com, for instance. Indeed, one can’t help but
suspect that the success of portfolio.com helped to persuade Plotz that there
was a viable business model here in the first place.
And then there are sites such as fool.com, Marketwatch, thestreet.com, and
Seeking Alpha, all of which provide a lot of smart analysis, albeit aimed largely
at investors rather than a more general public. Bloomberg, too, has some excellent
columnists, but they don’t seem to get read all that much online.
But the big unknown in this space is the FT’s hugely respected Lex column.
Back in 2000, a pair of Lex journalists, Hugo Dixon and Jonathan Ford, went
independent and launched Breakingviews, a website which is definitely smart,
analytical, opinionated, fast, and agile, even if it isn’t very webby –
it still doesn’t even have RSS feeds, for instance, let alone a comments system,
and I’ve never once seen them actually link to anything. But in any case none
of that really matters: they went for a subscription model, which essentially
makes them invisible to 99% of the web.
The obvious next move for the FT, then, would be to launch a free version of
Breakingviews, under the Lex brand name – the amount you could charge
for ads on a site like that would be stratospheric, and if it was really free
it would get a huge amount of link love from the econoblogosphere.
If Lex did become a free website, that would instantly help to legitimize the
whole business-opinion space on the web, and while in one sense such a site
would compete with the likes of Portfolio.com and ft.com, in a bigger sense
it would probably mark the point at which business executives started really
feeling comfortable heading online for smart news and analysis. When that happens,
advertising – which is already growing very quickly in the business space
– will move to a whole new level.
That’s the great thing about the economics of content-based websites: often,
the more competition you have, the more successful you are. At the moment, I
feel closer to the blogosphere than I do to any big-media sites. If the likes
of the FT and the Washington Post Company start getting involved, that would
be a great leap forward in helping the business world to start moving away from
newspapers and proprietary terminals, and start moving increasingly online for
their news and analysis.