Interview, Steve Brill, Part 2: Lessons From Contentville

imageThis isn’t the first time Steve Brill has claimed he has the solutions for making money online. Back in 2000, Brill pieced together a complex group of partners, including *Primedia*, to launch a controversial micropayment site called Contentville.com. In 2001 he engineered a complicated series of deals with then-Primedia (NYSE: PRM) CEO Tom Rogers that combined his Brill Media Holdings (Brill’s Content, Contentville) with Primedia’s media trade publications and buzzy but challenged Powerful Media’s Inside.com into MediaCentral. (I came along with Inside.com; Brill later promoted Inside intern Rafat Ali, who went on to found our company ContentNext Media.) Among other things, Media Central was supposed to show people money could be made by meshing online and magazines.

Media Central survived the bubble burst (not much longer but that’s another story); Brill’s media and online ideas did not. He shut Brill’s Content, Contentville and the editorial operations of Inside.com after 9/11 (Inside.com became a short-llived portal for Media Central content), then withdrew from publishing to write After, a hefty book on the catastrophic events. He gained an interest in airport security from his research and followed the book by founding Verified Identity Pass,Inc. to create a secure but easy way for frequent travelers to get through airport security. Brill is now vice chairman of the company. Recently, though, his passion for fixing journalism re-emerged and yesterday, Brill, Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindery, Jr., went public with Journalism Online, LLC. We spoke Tuesday about the new venture, covered in Part 1, the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), lessons learned from the past and more. Here is the second part of edited excerpts from our conversation:

Staci D Kramer: To take the Wayback Machine, you were very ahead of this idea back in 2000 and 2001…. I remember what it felt like when our stories went behind the wall and how much buzz died. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it was available to so many people to begin with, that it wasn’t really on a trade model. What did you learn from that experience that you take in to this?

Steve Brill: I certainly learned that even then, as a tech matter you could do it. Now you can do it much better, much easier, much more seamless — and I’ve learned there we didn’t have an advertising piece of it, an advertising model attached to it. … In retrospect, the way to make it work much better is what the (Wall Street) Journal does. They have a ton of advertising revenue because a ton of stuff is available for free in different ways but a certain significant percentage, bought by a certain percentage of their hardcore readers, produces significant circulation revenue. What it comes down to is the same old equation that print publishers always had to deal with, which was how do you balance advertising revenue with circulation revenue? If you just worried about selling advertising, the more eyeballs the better but if you’re worried about cheapening your brand and therefore your circulation revenue, you have to balance it.

Cable programmers are trying to figure out how to bring their content online in the most valuable way without damaging their licensing fees. Maybe you only make it available to people who already pay for it. .

I think Jeff (Bewkes) has a pretty good idea there.

The difference is cable [so far] isn

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