Does exclusivity equal revenue?

We all know that media companies are turning over every rock they can to find new digital revenue, everything from ill-conceived micro-payments to erecting pay walls online. But here’s a thought: would newspaper companies increase digital revenue by licensing their content through exclusive deals with wireless companies?

I started thinking about after reading that Apple and Verizon are in talks about an I-Phone for Verizon. The first emotion that hit me was panic. If Apple and Verizon join forces, a combo of information delivery through the I-Phone and ultra-cheap netbooks could be problematic to media companies hoping  the next generation of e-readers helps reverse the revenue slide the industry finds itself in. (Newspapers wouldn’t get any revenue for their content through I-Phones or net books; they’ll at least get some subscription, and maybe advertising, revenue through e-readers).

So here’s my thought: If Apple and Verizon can join forces, why can’t newspapers get involved, too?

Here’s the thing: No online pay model is going to fully support a digital operation. Just look at the difficulties sites like InDenverTimes and SeattlePostGlobe are having attracting subscribers and donors. And remember, many newspaper sites went away from the paid model several years back because — remember this? — they weren’t making enough money.

So what if a newspaper company went to a big wireless outfit — let’s call in ABC Wireless — with this proposal:  ABC and its users get exclusive rights to the digital content we provide. We’ll put up a hard pay wall on our online sites. Existing ABC customers get free access; everyone else has to pay (or buy an ABC service.)  ABC has no say over what content we produce, including stories that may be critical of ABC. We share revenue all around. We get a portion of every subscriber on the ABC network; ABC gets a portion of our digital and print revenues. And, we do whatever is technically and legally possible to stop all others from posting no more than a simpler headline link back to our site. No synopsis or fat paragraphs of information that give the story away.

Of course, there are a lot of problems with this, but that’s for another blog. This one is just to get people thinking about the other possibilities that don’t seem to be discussed.

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