Hands up those people who know how the world of newspapers and magazines and journalism and writing’s going to play out in the internet world!
Lots of information’s free, newspapers no longer have the same quantity of advertising revenue to subsidise their subscription prices, writers don’t have easy ways to tout their missives.
Enter “All about the Story”, a year old ‘marketplace’ for writers and journalists to offer their stories and for editors to pick a piece that suits their publication. The story fee is determined by the writer, and AATS clips a 20% transaction fee and pays it into a nominated account once the publisher has paid.
AATS grew out of an idea by Julie Starr, a journalist and editor who returned to New Zealand in 2007 from more than 10 travelling, including newspaper work in Britain. One of her gigs was at the Daily Telegraph five years ago (a lifetime in internet years), where along with then-Editor Will Lewis, Starr was heavily involved in a project to integrate the newsroom into the online world.
“That was a very future-looking experience, particularly around how people use and share online information,” she says. “It showed how the economics of an online publication is completely different to print. It was obvious though that the new media was going to need an infrastructure.”
Arriving back in New Zealand, and experiencing frustration at attempting to sell a Kashmir-oriented travel story, Starr attended the Webstock event in Wellington in early 2009. This is a web-design, internet exploration ‘do’ for geeks and others interested in the whole online world.
There she got talking with Lance Wiggs and Joshua Vial. They kicked around her idea of creating an online marketplace for writers and editors, and along with Michael Koziarski and Natalie Ferguson, AATS was launched in November 2009.
At the moment the site doesn’t have any fulltime employees, though Starr’s constantly “cranking up the time I have to spend on it,” servicing what is now hundreds of writers (and cartoonists and illustrators) and publishers – matching sellers with buyers. The team’s happy with its growth she says.
The concept has taken time to build awareness among potential users, and for people to get used to doing business this way. At the same time, the rapidly changing media environment means AATS is also having to constantly change the way it does business.
From editors’ points of view it saves them having to have a (often long-winded) conversation with a writer; they simply find a story they like, that fits, buy it, download it and put it in the publication.
Particularly as an editor approaches a deadline, needing something to fill a gap, AATS is perfect. Editors can search by category, author, topic and key words to find the right article; as well as being able to commission a story via the site.
A writer only is charged if a story is bought – contributors don’t have to pay to use the site as such, only needing to spend a small amount of time uploading their words to AATS.
“We’ve started in New Zealand to prove the model,” Starr says, “and we’ll be expanding overseas as we go.”
“If you wanted to characterise our first year, you’d say we’ve learned a lot and built our presence. We have the foundation to move forward. We have all kinds of people using it, and have clear ideas of how to build it further and go ahead.”
Starr says there are similar, but different overseas models to AATS. Some tend to be more speciaslist, providing say videos only, while others, say India, are country specific.
There are also sites that ask contributors to write tight, keyword-rich stories for websites — usually in volume. However, in her opinion, most of these sites only pay small amounts, and “some are quite disappointing for writers, especially those wanting to retain journalistic integrity.”
While getting AATS up and running, Starr spent a couple of years as editor in residence at the Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec), then created an online version of the National Diplome in Journalism for distance learners which allows students to study the craft at home. As well as running AATS on a day to day basis, Starr also consults on newsroom design and workflows, as well as other related projects
AATS’s future direction, while necessarily somewhat secret, is to build greater use of the site, and add more functionality to its nicely simple (sticK’s opinion) layout.
“We’ve got a development list that’s miles long, most around serving our customers first and things the site needs to be able to grow,” Starr says. “That’s one of the benefits of working with this bunch of guys. Their perspective is invaluable, they ask direct, probing questions. We challenge one another, figure out what the priorities are. Collectively, we do it better, together.”
She says AATS has a number of possible future business models. One version may be as a ‘white label’, with other businesses in other countries perhaps able to put their own name on the whole AATS ‘engine’. Alternatively, AATS could become a type of global mini-Bloomberg.
“We’re looking at a few options, acquiring information on what and which we should do. It’s full steam ahead.”
Starr says one innovation she’s pleased that AATS is able to offer is a scholarship to attend this year’s Webstock in Wellington. Considering that ‘proper’ tickets cost more than $1000, the opportunity to write about and mingle with those at the cutting edge of internet developments is something that’s attracting considerable attention from the site’s wrangle of writers.
“This is fun,” she says. “Having a site like this enables us to do great things.”