Mining cryptocurrencies and blockchain tech to save journalism
A share of the innovation at the Washington Post over the past few years is due to Jarrod Dicker, a HuffPost, Time Inc. and RebelMouse vet who began seeing how a burgeoning engineering team under Jeff Bezos’ ownership could use commercial applications to make the Post profitable.
Over the past two years, he started and ran a research, experimentation and development team that launched 15 ad products, helping drive eight-figure revenues. And the Post says it has turned a profit the past two years.
Promoted to be the Post’s VP of innovation and commercial strategy last July, Dicker shocked industry insiders Tuesday when he announced he was leaving to become CEO of Po.et, a blockchain startup that lets content creators create time-stamped titles for their work. Put another way, Po.et, which has brokered token sales for Bitcoin Magazine and seven other early partnerships, is an open source ledger that promises to be able to track digital content and advertising, matching content with paying audiences.
So, naturally, we had a few questions. (This interview was edited lightly for clarity).
Jarrod, you're VP of innovation at the news enterprise that is considered among America’s most successful, run by the richest guy in the world. Axios' Sara Fischer says that if you are making the jump from the Post into blockchain technology, "we should all be paying attention." What prompted this move?
The media industry is at, and has been for some time, an interesting crossroads. There is dependency for creators to be beholden to the platforms they publish on, and beyond that, every pocket of creation, whether by brand, agency or independent publisher, is limited to confinements of what we as an industry created for creators to be successful. I believe that this doesn't need to be the case.
By building a decentralized marketplace for creators, run by the community, we build a new path toward digital artistic independence that can free not only content creators but media companies, brands and marketers as well.
The important thing to note, and what prompted the move, is that this cannot be done within a single organization, where there is a single beneficiary because then the motive will be weighed by particular needs. Having this be decentralized, as a marketplace, where the community can build and evolve its needs as it sees fit is the only venue where actual change can take place.
One theme of this website and newsletter is a search for business models to help journalism, local and otherwise. For a general audience, can you give an example of how blockchain technology can help journalism? Is po.et an amazingly tricked-out version of copyright.com?
I believe that we don't actually know what content is worth. Actually, I know we don't know what content is worth. That is why we constantly run into issues of bettering user experience in advertising (because there are too many ads), subscription A/B testing on costs (because we need an entry point without turning away loyal readers) and licensing costs.
I hate sports analogies but bear with me; not every quarterback in the NFL is valued the same because they're a quarterback in the NFL. There is an open marketplace, free-agency, that leverages a community and auction to access value of a player based on many factors. That doesn't exist for content creators today. We know that all creators are different, yet we value them the same because there is no marketplace for publishers, brands and the community to openly dictate their value.
That is what we're building with Po.et. There is the attribution element, leveraging a blockchain ledger to better organize, store and protect content. But then there's the valuation element, that when more creators, publishers and brands alike begin uploading their content into this system, the community will help dictate and set what the real value will be. This will then allow us to make smarter business decisions, build better models for consumers and brands alike and move forward in the direction we know we need to go in.
Others are moving on this path. Civil has launched an ad-free publishing system on its Ethereum-based platform — and has plans to fund local newsrooms. Would po.et work with these closed editorial systems as well as those on the open web?
Yes. What I love most about Po.et is that it recognizes that there doesn't need to be a loser in the triangular media chain. Publishers, ad agencies and brands can all win if the right model is structurally sound and supported. We are constantly arguing against advertising, saying that the consumers don't want to engage with intrusive ads and that the user experience is not ideal.
But on the other side of that argument, if publishers continue to tell brands that their ads aren't wanted, then brands are going to stop buying on publisher platforms.
I believe in advertising. I believe in subscription models. I believe that with the right marketplace of creators, brands can tell a great story and not need to go through publishers to do so. I also believe that if we can understand the value of content (for the record, today it's extremely undervalued in my opinion), then ad experiences can be beneficial for consumers and buyers.
We're stuck in confines that we created and believe everything must be black and white. But with Po.et, we are focused on the gray. The media model has worked, but we've lost our way. Po.et can bring it back, in a way that everyone who wants to be a part of it can continue to do so in a productive way.
To follow up: Can Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrency payments emerge as a significant, even dominant, revenue stream for local news?
Absolutely. And the idea of an ICO (initial offering of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin) is exciting to me because it's a community driven effort, with community contribution and commitment toward the common goal. There are so many successful communities building the future of our business, from Wikipedia to Github.
If we can leverage tokens to welcome a new environment that allows for consumers, brands and buyers to pay back creators in a market place, then we really begin to think differently about how we generate revenue, and what it means to move beyond "supporting" local news, and actually see the value in "needing" to pay for it.
Are there peers in this area who have inspired you? Where has po.et gone so far, and where do you see your new enterprise and other related shops in a year or two?
There are so many. The most exciting part about this space is that it's so new, there is no right or wrong way to do it. So we're figuring it out as we go, having the right conversations and really thinking about how to build to better the entire media ecosystem. I often say it's dangerous to assume anything, because when you assume something is the way it is then you are afraid to challenge it. This space has shown, and evolution of media has shown, in fact, that we need to be questioning everything.
Po.et already has an online community of more than 40,000 developers and creators spanning Telegram, Reddit, Twitter and other social media platforms. It recently announced a partnership with the Maven Network Inc., as well as a WordPress developer integration, and an ever-growing list of use cases have only strengthened the open source vision. We will continue to lean on the community to innovate and lead on our platform. We'll also be working with all media companies, brands and creators to make it as seamless and appealing as possible to start to take back ownership of their ideas, products and creations.
So, now that you’re leaving BezosWorld, are you going to have to pay for Amazon Prime?
Always have! But now I'll buy a few more subscriptions to the Washington Post. Everyone should.
For more on Jarrod Dicker and his move, read his Medium piece here.