Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Retweet: News aggregation service, Ongo, backed by the NYT, Washington Post and Gannett, shuts down

The Nieman Journalism Lab is reporting this afternoon that Ongo has shut down. Never heard of it? Well, that tells you all you need to know, I suppose.

TNM touted the start up when it made its initial announcement back in October of 2010. The new venture from former Skype and e-Bay executive Alex Kazim had said it had raised big bucks from "old media giants the New York Times Company, the Washington Post and Gannett," I wrote at the time. Each company was to be represented on the board of the new company.

A couple of months later Business Insider asked if Ongo was the craziest start-up idea ever?
"Ongo is going to aggregate the content from a number of newspapers, strip out the ads, improve the interface and charge a monthly fee. Yes, Ongo is going to CHARGE for news that's generally free on the web. Crazy, right? We think so, but Ongo CEO Alex Kazim doesn't seem rattled," Jay Yarow wrote.

My response was that the company's founder, Kazim, was either great at making presentations to investors, or else "he knows an easy mark when he sees one," referring to the newspaper companies.

The Nieman Journalism Lab interviewed the company's CEO Dan Haarmann who expressed several reasons for the company's failure, including the one mentioned above in the BI post. Haarman also talked about the Apple App Store and its tablet platform.

“You have to be on a tablet platform to have success,” Haarman told Adrienne LaFrance. “That’s where people are most willing to spend money, so for a paid product, you’re going to have to focus on the mobile side. Apple’s take, from a billing perspective, made it very difficult to succeed in a paid-product space from what we think the pricing should be.”

That is an interesting take, and probably an accurate one. But it is in sharp contrast to that of Technology Review's publisher Jason Pontin, who also had difficulties succeeding with their tablet app, but concluded that the future isn't working with Apple and other digital platforms, but following the Financial Times's example of HTML5 publishing outside of the "walled garden". I strongly disagreed with what Pontin believed were the lessons to be learned. But when you combine Ongo's experience with TechReview's you could certain say that it is always wise for publishers to not only go where the readers are, but where the buyers are.