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TheStreet Open House

The Digital Skeptic: Mongolia Is a Better Media Customer Than U.S.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Before investors watch digital music services such as Spotify burn through another hundred million dollars figuring out how to sell music worldwide, they might want to insist that company execs jet over to Freising, Germany -- just north of Munich -- for a beer and a brat with Matthias Wurfl.

Wurfl knows something supposed new-media geniuses such as Ed Sheeran or Spotify's Daniel Ek and Chris Maples -- and maybe Microsoft's (MSFT) Steve Ballmer -- don't: how to actually get paid in the global digital content game.

Remarkably, Wurfl pulls off this money-making trick without the benefit of modern digital tricks such as social media, machine learning or mobile devices. And he didn't burn through the gross domestic product of the Falkland Islands to get launched as Spotify did.

His eight-person, bootstrapped shop uses basic digital tools such as a website and email. But Wurfl's business is solidly old school. His firm, The Interview People, acts like a sort of on-demand, by-piece global newswire. He secures the rights to top-flight celeb interviews and photo sessions. His vendors include England's The Guardian, Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung and France's Le Monde, as well as freelancers and other outlets around the globe. Chats and photos with the likes of Michelle Obama or Johnny Depp usually sell best. He then markets these pieces to media outlets in 70 territories, carefully finding the countries where larger newswires do not have footholds. He finesses the translations of his pieces, manages the relationship with his editor customers and delivers the story.

He then splits the proceeds -- usually 50/50 -- with his suppliers.

"Everyone we deal with loves what we do because we give them extra revenue," Wurfl says. The trick he explained is in carefully selecting the stories that are unique and finding the territories around the world that are a new market for that story -- all without killing the original value of the piece in the market where it was created.

When I asked him why other content companies -- particularly those here in the U.S. -- can't seem to master this trick, his explanation is sadly familiar in these dark digital days.

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