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If information is worth something, pay for it

At Verb.company we are trying something new. We are running a test of selling digital news reports by the copy. We have set a low price per copy and made our first report available at our online store. Like the character in the Futurama TV show who always says “Good news, everyone” before sending the crew on another suicidal mission, we are taking a sunny view on the face of horrible odds.

We believe that people will pay for certain news on the Internet. Most of the news industry disagrees and we are hoping to prove them wrong. Our core tenet is: the value of information is inversely proportional to the number of people who have the information. For example, the fewer the people who know where to dig for gold, the more valuable that piece of information is: if you are the only who knows it, then its value is huge. Our business is creating valuable information from scratch.  

The hardest thing in our model is to split news from advertising. For newspapers, low traffic is “bad news”: for two hundred years, they got paid on the number of readers. That business model is now in crumbles. But that is only true if you are selling advertising. If you are buying advertising, you want the least possible reach that will maximize your sales: more bang for the buck. That is what Google and Facebook are offering advertisers to lure them away from news media. For example, instead of buying an ad that will reach 100,000 people hoping to reach the two thousand potential customers willing to buy your gold watches, you can now buy an advertisement in Instagram to target people who have shown an interest in gold jewelry and walk near your store every day.

In our model, we are no longer sellers of advertising but customers of advertising. We are using the same technology that is wreaking havoc on the news industry, very accurate and affordable online segmentation, to find the customers willing to pay for the information we are creating. Google and Facebook dominate the advertising industry but have had a hard time telling the truth from lies. In their model, it may be impossible.

Yet their audience segmentation is a valuable aid to sell our reports. And we at Verb.company can separate the wheat from the chaff. The news industry has time-tested methods to approach the truth. We have adopted the toolbox of classic journalism to do it. That’s why we have created a newsroom modelled after the newspaper ones. In other words, we use Google and Facebook to sell our editorial products. We are not their partners, nor beneficiaries, but customers. The famous business principle applies: the customer is always right.

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The Age of the Idols

It may not be easy to determine when man left prehistory behind. For the sake of argument, this house will posit that man began to distance himself from the other animals when he began to make idols in his own image and likeness. We do not know for sure what our oldest ancestors’ ideas on the divine were. But these primitive idols (from classical Greek εἴδωλον, “image”) attest to a belief in the supernatural.

An exhibition at Ca’ Loredan, in Venice, traces them to their origins in the Mediterranean belt of civilization —from the Iberian Peninsula to Sardinia and the Cyclades— as well as Mesopotamia and the Far East by way of Arabia and the Indus Valley. The assembled collection, curated by Annie Caubet, from the Louvre, will leave the visitor with a sense of awe.

The 100 artifacts tell the story of how idols, and ideas, evolved from the “Neolithic revolution” to the Bronze age. And we see how goddesses and supreme priestesses are displaced by male deities and holy men. Sounds familiar? It should. For it coincides with the heavenly rage of Zeus and the other Greek gods against their female counterparts, and the instances of revenge by mothers, lovers and daughters against their bearded lords. Why so much fury? Around that time, men had just discovered that women were not endowed with divine powers to create life, but that it was insemination which made them pregnant. Their former goddesses had turned out to be mere humans, angry men had found out.

To modern man, the exhibit is humbling too. As Ian Tattersall, a British-American paleoanthropologist and curator emeritus of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, has said, man in antiquity already had the sensibility we have today. There can be little doubt about it contemplating the statuettes at Ca’ Loredan, in their exquisite detail, harmony and refinement. And we may wonder if there has been an even more acute regression since the time the Greek deities declared war on their women. “Idols” today —like those seen on TV— are mere humans, in flesh and blood.

Idols: The Power of the Image runs through 20 January 2019. For more information: https://www.fondazioneligabue.it/it/mostre/idoli_7.html