What publishers can learn from first news media Web3 experiments
“A lot of people ask me if it’s too late to launch a Web3 project. Of course not. You’re well ahead,” said Laurent Bainier, Editor-in-Chief of the free French daily 20 Minutes.
“But my advice is to start as soon as possible because the road is very long.”
This was one of the takeaways from a panel discussion that explored the decentralised web’s implications to the news industry. The panel, which took place at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress 2022 in Zaragoza, also shared some key advice on what news publishers should know when starting their own Web3 projects.
SCMP monetising historical newspaper covers with NFTs
Gary Liu, Founder and CEO of Artifact Labs, was the CEO of the South China Morning Post between 2017 and 2022. He said that a significant digital transition took place at the over 100-year-old news organisation during this time.
As part of this process, SCMP looked at blockchain but decided to wait until a suitable application would come along before exploring the technology further.
This happened in 2021 in the form of NFTs, an application with “immediate and material impact” on the media business, Liu said. He listed three reasons why NFTs matter to news publishers:
- Immutable preservation of information: Publishers spend a lot of money and energy to preserve their archives, often on platforms or servers that are vulnerable to external influence or attacks. Blockchain allows publishers to immutably preserve those archives, with greater transparency, accountability and long-term security.
- Intrinsic value for digital media: Digital media (articles, images or video) can be easily copied, with each copy being as valuable as the original file. NFTs offer authentication and verifiable scarcity, which creates value where it didn’t exist before.
- Next-generation behaviours: The next set of consumers will have new expectations regarding the value of the digital goods they own. “Gen Z and beyond, there’s already a generational rejection of centralisation of data and assets. They want to own their own data. They want to own their own digital assets,” Liu said.
The SCMP’s first project in this space focused on the publisher’s historical archives. The company first created a new metadata standard that included information on the historical significance of the NFTs they minted.
Next, they created a new NFT collection using the front pages that SCMP published in 1997, the year of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China – “without a doubt the most important year in Hong Kong’s history,” Liu said.
Overall, 13,000 NFTs were created based on the 362 front pages published that year. These were then sold as “mystery boxes”, so buyers didn’t know in advance what NFTs they would get.
The 13,000 NFTs were sold out in about four hours, generating about 250,000 US dollars of revenue.
Finally, the SCMP launched a Community Wall, which allowed the new NFT owners to share their purchases with the rest of the world. All 362 NFT front pages were made publicly available within days.
Since that first initiative, the SCMP has experimented with other assets that include NFTs about famous photos from Hong Kong’s past and significant events from the city’s cultural history.
Artifact Labs, which Liu now leads, was spun out from the SCMP as a start-up that helps media, cultural and historical organisations translate physical assets into the blockchain and build communities around those assets.
To conclude, Liu mentioned three Web3 case studies that news organisations should look at closely:
- Starbucks has announced a blockchain-based membership programme – but one that uses no blockchain or Web3 terminology. “They have created a programme that introduces people to virtual assets on the blockchain, without those users ever knowing that they are on the blockchain. That I think is a model many people should be copying.”
- Gucci has partnered with Web3 native brands to engage the Web3 community and the next generation of consumers. “This entire world is about partnerships, you cannot go at it alone. And Gucci figured it out faster than other premium luxury brands.”
- Time magazine has leveraged its iconic red frame as part of its Web3 community initiative TIMEPieces. The magazine has sold more than 20,000 individual NFTs and generated more than 10 million US dollars in revenues. “Time has one asset most of us do not, which is that red border. You can put anything in that red border and suddenly it has value. And they’ve been able to leverage that beautifully.”
20 mint: The first Web3 magazine for the general public
Another news publisher experimenting in the NFT space is 20 minutes, France’s biggest free newspaper. Laurent Bainier, the Editor-in-Chief of 20 minutes, talked about the first Web3 magazine for the general public that the company launched earlier this year.
Called 20 mint, the new publication aims to fuel the debate around Web3. Copies of the first issue were distributed in France’s biggest cities in June, and the team is now working on the second issue.
To finance the first issue, 20 minutes decided to embrace the Web3 ethos and sold 1,000 NFTs, each costing around 280 euros. These were sold in less than 15 hours.
“Each of those NFTs was not only a unique piece of art. It was also a membership card,” Bainier said. When readers bought an NFT, they also got access to a private Discord channel where the newsroom holds editorial debates.
The relationship with the NFT community is deep: the community participates in editorial discussions, votes for subjects they want covered, creates content, and has also interviewed Bainier on Twitch. The publisher also hired someone from the community to translate the magazine’s first issue into English. (The translator was, naturally, paid in cryptocurrency.)
Based on his experience, Bainier shared five lessons with any publisher thinking about getting involved in a Web3 project.
- It’s still day 0: Any Web3 initiative that launches now is well ahead of the curve. But it’s best to get started early. “You have to convince a lot of people internally and externally,” Bainier said. “The first time you will talk about crypto with your accountant, he may have a heart attack.”
- You are never really ready to leave power: “You will have to give [the Web3 community] the opportunity to really express what they want,” he said. “I launched a Discord server and two days later I was nearly asking the permission to speak in the server. Because they were at home, they are more fluent, they have more knowledge, they have more experience in Web3.”
- Stick to the roadmap: The Web3 world is known for stories of someone making big promises, collecting money from others, and then walking away without delivering anything. Therefore, “the Web3 community is very wary of the promises you make. So publish your roadmap. And my advice is to under promise and overdeliver.”
- Transparency is not optional: “You will have to rethink how you communicate with your community. The classic top-down networks won’t work,” Bainier said, as the community expects interaction through Discord, Telegram, WhatsApp, or even Twitch to ask questions live. “They will ask a lot of questions, some are uncomfortable, but the good news is they will become your allies and they will defend you on classical networks like Twitter.”
- Let them cry their love: Finally, Bainier said that you should remember that when readers want to donate time and money to a newspaper, you never know why they love your brand or your newspaper. “So give them the opportunity to express it with their wallet. And if it’s a crypto wallet it’s even better.”
Web3 Foundation working on future standards
Finally, Ursula O’Kuinghttons, Director of Communications and Partnerships at Web3 Foundation, talked about the role her organisation has in building the foundation of the decentralised web.
Previously O’Kuinghttons was part of Civil, which in 2017 was one of the first high-profile attempts in the news industry to experiment with the blockchain technology. However, Civil ultimately failed to take off and was shut down in 2020. (You can read more in an earlier blog post.)
At the Web3 Foundation, O’Kuinghttons is involved in two of the organisation’s flagship projects. Kusama is a development network for experimentation with different blockchain technologies. The successful projects are typically implemented in Polkadot, which is the Foundation’s shared protocol that aims to enhance interoperability by enabling different blockchain networks to operate together.
“If you think about it, the beauty of the current internet is its interoperability. We can connect with different internets,” she said.
“That has been one of the issues with blockchains, that they don’t connect with each other. If I have my NFTs with Solana, it’s really hard to sell them in Ethereum, because we don’t have the bridges to do that.”
Another issue that people working in the Web3 area face is the fact that a lot of the terminology seems impenetrable to the lay audience. But more recent applications of the blockchain, such as NFTs and metaverse, are expanding the public conversation towards practical solutions.
“I don’t want to know what’s behind the email that I send to my mother. I just need to know that email works. Same with blockchain. This is one of the big challenges that we’re facing.”
Follow our Web3 pilot ‘Cogency’!
As announced in July, WAN-IFRA is partnering on a new pilot project to assess how Web3 can be used to help build ongoing trust and develop new sources of revenue for news publishers and content producers. The project now has a name – Cogency – and it officially started mid-October announcing top-tier partners including Publico, Mediahuis, Groupe Les Echos and Le Parisien, Conde Nast and Reuters amongst others.
The coalition working on the project is supported by the Web3 Foundation and aims to research how media institutions might operate with and benefit from using the decentralised technologies associated with the Web3 movement.
Read more about Cogency here: https://www.cogencylab.com