Stock and Flow

Advice for The Australian and other failing newspapers

Late last year at the Oxford Union we had the opportunity to talk with Tim Ferris, author of the 4-Hour Workweek, about his tips for successful blogging.

Tim’s key piece of advice, an echo of every good guidebook we’ve read, is that bloggers who are just starting out should focus on producing “evergreen content”. That is to say, publish content that will be just as interesting in 6 months time as it was the day it was written.

Tim Ferris knows what he is talking about, and his advice is sound. But why?

Well, in order to understand what Tim’s talking about, you need to understand the difference between “stock” and “flow”. (Very simple concepts, but incredibly powerful.)

Stock is how much you have of something at a point in time, whether it be money, property, equipment, or interesting articles. Flow, on the other hand, measures the rate of change over a period of time: income, expenditure, production of new articles, or the depreciation in value of old ones.

Not surprisingly, the value of an online publication derives in part from its stock of interesting and insightful content.

The most obvious way to make this number go up is to write more, increase production, and burn the midnight oil. We had coffee with a journalist from The Australian recently, and understand that they are doing just that. They are working harder than ever, but with shrinking expense accounts and diminishing job security.

The problem with merely writing more is that news articles are losing their value more quickly than ever. Breaking news becomes old news within 24 hours, and the fair use exception means that news aggregators can pinch chunks of content without paying for them.

Could it be that Tim’s advice for rookie bloggers is relevant for struggling newspapers too?

Producing content with a more enduring value may help them to stem the flow.