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Economist Magazine Tests "Open System" — With Tom Sawyer Economics

Project Red Stripe is

a small team set up by The Economist Group, the parent company of the eponymous newspaper. Our mission is to develop truly innovative services online.

I’ve met with several members of this team. These are serious, smart folks who have backing from a highly traditional organization — which produces the best English-language magazine on the planet, even if they call it a newspaper — to take risks for innovation. Excellent news, if overdue.

There’s even an Economist blog. Wow, it has semi-bylines. something you rarely see in the magazine.

What are innovative services in the works? An early one is an idea-gatherer: “a site to gather ideas from the outer world…”

We already have some ideas, of course. But as champions of free markets, we abhor the concept of a closed system. This is why we would like you to submit your idea (or ideas). Just think big – and we’ll do the rest.

OK, it’s great to see the Economist start drawing on the wisdom of the crowd. Given the quality of the people who subscribe to the magazine and other Economist Group services, this is one heck of a wise crowd.

But then come the Terms and Conditions, which state:

If you submit an idea or otherwise actively participate in Project Red Stripe, The Economist Group shall have the right to use this information in current or future products or services, without monetary reward or compensation. However, if we use your contribution then in exchange we will give you credit by acknowledging you as a contributor on and we will also offer you a free six-month subscription to We will also further involve those who have made significant contributions.

Ideas are one thing, if they’re notions on how to do better journalism and make a truly interactive site. But given those terms, would you toss an idea that might turn into a real business advantage over the transom? You’d be cautious, if you were paying attention.

The Economist may have little choice in doing it this way — promising so little — possibly for legal reasons. Maybe the plan is to actually reward, in a serious way, the people who come up with ideas that could be genuinely transformative. I hope so.

There are hints of this in a posting by Ludwid Siegele, where he writes:

Still, we won’t just take an idea and run with it. We intend to give credit where credit is due — even if we don’t know yet exactly how. And, perhaps even more enticing, we will further involve those making significant contributions in Project Red Stripe.

But the early wording in the Terms and Conditions, from the self-professed champion of the free market, could encourage more derision than participation.

2 Comments on “Economist Magazine Tests "Open System" — With Tom Sawyer Economics”

  1. #1 Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Saturday squibs
    on Mar 10th, 2007 at 11:58 am

    […] Economist Magazine Tests “Open System” — With Tom Sawyer Economics. Dan Gillmor likes some ideas floating at the Economist but doesn’t like terms of service that say, in effect, send us your ideas and,if we like them, we’ll use them without giving you much in return. […]

  2. #2 Seth Finkelstein
    on Mar 10th, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Serious suggestion: How about making a collection of these? Or at least a special tag, e.g. “digital sharecropping”. It might be useful.

    I do think you have defined the essence in the quote: “You do all the work, and we’ll take all the money we make by exploiting it.”