Web economics vs. Pubradio economics

The Bryant Park Project collapse at NPR sure has had the public media world a-twitter over the last 24 hours. I got one tip to wait for an announcement or something like that from NPR about the future of BPP. Okay. I’m waiting.

In the mean time, I just wanted to point to a simple example of how web economics differ so dramatically from traditional radio production and distribution economics. Because my central take is that the BPP could live on in a new web-focused model, one that it’s already primed to utilize. But to survive it would still need some NPR largesse — though less than it’s gotten to date.

The example I offer here is not a direct analog to the BPP situation, but it’s generally illustrative and great for fueling thought about how new media are different from old media. So here’s the post, by former Apple Computer evangelist Guy Kawasaki:

By the Numbers: How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09

Now the $12k figure is a bit hopeful, as the founder himself was not paid for his time. That and other elements make the $12k more fanciful than real, but the point is still valid: it’s not that expensive to start and run a web-based company.

By contrast, NPR reportedly spent about $2 million on the BPP in the last year or so. For public media companies that’s a lot of money. An award-winning 1-hour-per-week radio program in my own shop in Anchorage costs around $350,000 per year to maintain (and we can’t even afford that). $2 million to NPR isn’t that much, but in real terms, it’s a lot.

In a lot of ways, it may have been better had BPP been given only $500,000 to get started.

As pointed out by Ken George in quotes he collected at WBUR’s The ConverStation, the BPP was probably destined to failure if the point was to make a radio-web hybrid. They should have made a web-radio hybrid instead, using web economics as the baseline organizing idea. Web economics scale from small to large. Radio economics, practiced by NPR and others, scale from medium to large only, and often only from large to huge.

Rob Paterson’s got the right ideas. They sound really revolutionary, and I like to think there’s a middle path of some kind where the old ideas and the new ones “can just get along.” But history will likely prove him right and anyone pushing a compromise wrong.