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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Fri, 19 Jul 2013

The H is closing down: A sad day for open-source news, for @fabsh and for the rest of us

I was saddened today to learn that The H, the English-language arm of Heise, is closing down. The reason given is the usual one: lack of revenue from advertising. It's hard to sustain an online news site with any kind of staff -- that much I know.

Caught in the middle of this is Fabian A. Scherschel, aka @fabsh (or just Fab), co-host of Linux Outlaws, who had been working for The H for about a year and a half. He already wrote his farewell to the site.

Becoming a working journalist really sharpened up Fab's patter on LO, and I hope he is able to continue in tech journalism, even if it's for the German-language Heise.

I'd like to take this opportunity to let you know that journalism, as an enterprise and a career, is pretty damn precarious these days. The pay-to-read model, in its current incarnations, is mostly a non-starter (though I really hope it's working for LWN), and it's hard to make money from traditional display or text advertising unless you have massive scale in terms of traffic and minimum cost in terms of staff.

When you have unlimited inventory -- basically space on most pages across the entire World Wide Web -- prices are driven into the ground.

If I knew the solution, the magic bullet, so to speak, I'd be a billionaire. But I don't. And I'm not. Online journalism is a great enterprise until it comes time to make money. Back in the pre-web days (i.e. pre-1993, and probably later in practical terms), print was king, getting published was a big deal, and print media was the major vehicle for advertising to reach specialty audiences like those interested in tech.

Now that anybody can start up a blog -- and I'm included in that number -- and reach a small or large audience based on their work's own merit. It was -- and is -- revolutionary.

I'm not saying that any kind of web content deserves a certain level of reader or advertising support. Far from it. But I am wondering what the kinds of companies that used to buy lots of print advertising are doing these days to market their products and services. Most web advertising stinks.

This will all shake out one way or other. It always does. Somebody will figure this shit out. But in the interim, expect continued turmoil and a whole lot of flailing.