An Automated Digital Marketplace for Freelancers

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By: Steve Outing

The concept is to create a digital marketplace for freelancer writers’ and photographers’ work, allowing the authors to sell to a wider range of publishers, and for publishers and editor to gain access to a wider range of freelance journalism at lower cost — all done over the Internet automatically, without the need for the human beings involved to ever speak to each other.

It’s being tried out in Denmark and it’s called NetPress. Online in prototype form since last October and recently redesigned, NetPress is an interactive forum in which freelancers ply their wares to participating publishers, who can buy editorial content online for use in their publications. The NetPress system hooks the two parties up, then takes care of the monetary and legal components of the transaction.

According to Ib Konrad Jensen, a former newspaper reporter (Politiken of Copenhagen) and co-founder of NetPress, the new venture is starting out serving the Danish and Scandinavian publishing markets, although the concept could be expanded internationally (and probably will be through NetPress licensing of the technology outside Scandinavia).

Sell to many, for less

The concept enables a freelancer to lower the price of an article or photo over what he normally might charge a publisher, but then sell the content to several minor publishers each with a limited circulation area. “This strategy is only possible if you have a low-price and fast distribution network, which hasn’t been the case so far — at least not in small countries like Denmark,” Jensen says. “Very small publishers with very limited resources can get access to high-standard journalism — and the journalist possibly gets both higher payment and higher circulation in the end” by selling to multiple publishers.

Freelancers and publishers each must register to use the NetPress service, but there is no cost. The journalist puts a price on his work, and that’s the amount that he receives when it is sold. Publishers pay the list price plus a 10% commission fee to NetPress.

A journalist with something to sell simply fills out a registration form initially, then uploads his work for sale onto the system. At this point, NetPress hasn’t enabled any sort of approval process for journalists wishing to sell. “We can, however, add that functionality within minutes if necessary,” Jensen says. “We consider ourselves as brokers, and do not go into editorial matters so far.” Writers are expected to make sales based on their reputations in the journalism profession. “But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to exclude writers who don’t meet ‘the standard.'”

Publishers and editors who wish to be able to purchase content must be approved to get a password to view works online. (The freelancers can see who has read their work stored on NetPress, as well as who has purchased it.) Jensen explains that an editor can buy a piece with exclusive rights, for example, in which case the work is automatically removed from the digital “shelves.” “An ‘editor’ can thus cause quite a lot of harm, and therefore nobody is let loose unless approved by us,” he says.

Anyone can view the “bookshelves” of content that NetPress has up for sale, but only the headlines and information about the author or photographer. To read full content, you have to have an editor log-in name and password. The system also supports searches, as well as browsing by author name.

When an editor buys a story, Jensen explains, the system generates an instant invoice, and at the end of the year the editor gets “all the needed names and statistics for the tax authorities” for those freelancers whose work they have purchased. In the coming months, NetPress hopes to add an integrated credit card instant-payment system.

Editors can buy exclusive or non-exclusive rights to a work — depending on how the freelancer wants to sell. The typical transaction gives the publisher one-time rights to use the piece in his publication and archive, but not to resell otherwise.

Ultimately, a news service

Jensen estimates that there are about 100 Danish journalists working and living abroad as freelancers, plus another 200-300 Norwegian and Swedish freelance journalists. “If just half these guys signed on to a system like this, you would get a very strong coverage of the world which at least in volume would outnumber several professional news agencies,” he says.

He also is looking for a “reliable click payment system. Then freelancers would have the possibility to offer their writings as pay-per-view.”

Jensen envisions the NetPress concept eventually transformed for other languages and markets. For now, this tiny organization will stay focused on Scandinavia first and Northern Europe second, with licensing deals elsewhere.

The trick to making this work also is to get editors and freelancers to start using it. NetPress plans in the coming weeks to send a direct mail piece to key editors and/or publishers at Scandinavian national and local papers, with a personal user ID and password. “We’ve learned that editors need to be taken by the hand if they shall explore this new and dangerous view of online publishing,” Jensen says.

Jensen’s partners in NetPress include Ejvind Sandal, former CEO of Politiken, and Bjarne Pederson, director of the Danish branch of Signform.

Contact: Ib Konrad Jensen, ikj@og.dk

Get with it, baby!

Some months back, after the birth of my second daughter, I suggested in this column that newspaper Web sites should set up interactive features that enable parents to announce the birth of their children. The Web staff at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver has done just that, with a new feature called BabyAnnounce.com.

Using this Web site, new parents can create a free online baby announcement by completing a form. Each announcement includes the newborn’s name and birth information, a photograph, and an interactive guestbook where friends and family can leave messages for parents and child.

The service is free, and eventually will be supported by the sale of a national sponsorship, according to Robert Niles, executive producer of the News’ InsideDenver Web site and developer of the BabyAnnounce service. Niles is a new father himself, and decided to develop BabyAnnounce.com after creating his own baby-announcement Web page upon the birth of his first child.

Contact: Robert Niles, robert@insidedenver.com

Conferences of note

It must be conference season. Recently, some announcements crossed my desk for what look like worthwhile upcoming online news industry events:

March 25
The International Women’s Media Foundation is hosting a seminar called “Caught on the Web,” which will examine the “possibilities and challenges of women in the New Media.” Panelists include women from TimeOnline, Dateline Online, MSNBC, WashingtonPost.com, America Online and Los Angeles Times Online. The event takes place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at 10 a.m. For information, call 202-496-1992.

June 8-10
Roger Fidler, professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism, has organized the first Kent symposium on “The Future of Print Media.” It will take place on the Kent, Ohio, campus and is co-hosted by the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent University. The central theme of the symposium, which is billed as “non-technical,” is emerging electronic alternatives to mechanical printing and paper, and the development of international standards for digital publications.

Fidler is well known in new media circles as an early proponent of portable flat-panel displays as the “newspaper of the future.” He founded a research lab for Knight Ridder to investigate the commercial potential of flat-panel publishing, then moved to Kent State to continue his research after the newspaper chain closed the lab. Information about the conference can be found at http://www.lci.kent.edu/futureprint.

Steve

No column till March 30

There will be no Stop The Presses! columns for the next week while I’m on vacation. The column will resume its regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday publication schedule on Monday, March 30.

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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