Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
Anyone with a passing interest in the paid content debate of 2009 has been watching the Brill-Crovitz Journalism Online LLC plan with interest. The Nieman Lab at Harvard has done some excellent blogging adding much needed detail to the plan, and now Dorian Benkoil at Poynter delivers some of the last bits of detail that were needed to give the project an honest assessment. It’s not just a pay wall strategy, which is very good to hear. Dorian writes:
It’s the classic “freemium” model: Give your material to 95 percent of your users, and get the most avid few to pay for a premium or unlimited level.
And he gives a qualified endorsement of the plans that he has heard so far. “Done right, with constant adjustment, I think the model can work, at least for publications that have enough unique content.” The model can work, but that is not a guarantee that it will work, he says.
It’s not clear that smaller, non-business publications, or larger ones that have eviscerated their newsrooms, will have enough of value to get a significant number to pay for enough of what they produce, especially when so much is available for free.
Develop products to sell
One of the biggest problems with this discussion is that there is still too much focus on charging and little focus on deciding what to charge for and more importantly what people will pay for. As I’ve said before, journalists have tended to focus on what they believe readers should pay instead of being realistic about what readers will pay for. Alan Mutter breaks this down in a useful checklist. I’ll just highlight his first point, and leave you to read the rest on his blog:
1. You cannot charge for such commoditized content as world, national, business, sports and entertainment news.
Alan makes another point, which I think Dorian implies in his post. News organisations might have to develop new information products or services to sell. As Alan says of his checklist:
Astute readers will note that much of the information publishers would like to sell does not fall into any of the above categories. This suggests that newspapers and broadcasters who are keen on peddling content need to focus on creating saleable product before they begin trying to charge for it.
We return again to value as determined by our audiences. Social value is important to health of a communities and societies, but to pay for our social mission, we need to create economic value as well. If the content is valuable enough to readers, they will pay for it and advertisers will want to be associated with it. Dumb pay walls and generic content are going to speed the demise of some foolish news organisations, but if we create value for our readers, we’ll survive this horrible recession and be prepared to thrive when it’s over.