Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Information Launches $399/yr Tech News Site - Former Wall Street Journal Reporters

Posted by Tom Foremski - December 4, 2013

2013 12 04 11 00 52

 Former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin today announced "The Information" a subscription only news site for $399 a year or $39.00 a month. 

In her Letter From the Editor she states the problems afflicting tech news sites very well:

Technology news needs a reboot. There are more stories and outlets than ever, but a troubling cycle is playing out:

The race for pageviews and ad dollars is causing publications to focus on quantity over quality.
Coverage is consolidating around attention-grabbing topics, like the latest hot startup or celebrity CEOs. Publications are wasting time writing and regurgitating the same stories again and again.
Media outlets are relying on sensational headlines or idle speculation, not original reporting, to make their versions stand out.

She says she and her team won't seek the most eyeballs but will chase after the "most valuable news." 

Foremski's Take: It's a bold move with only a few paragraphs available to see what Ms. Lessin means by "most valuable news." There's a look at Cisco and 2014, dubbed "Cisco's year of reckoning."

It's a fair point and one that's been made yearly for many years now, but CEO John Chambers consistently manages to put off that reckoning -- at some point he won't.

There's another story about crowdfunding's money problem. Another about crowdfunding's fees. 

A subscription-only publication makes sense if it is news about public companies because subscribers could trade on that information and make money. But it's clearly not a stock news publication, so what is it?

Her team is very small, three reporters and a roaming reporter. What can they produce on a daily basis that will stand out in the field of technology news?

Tech news is mostly product news these days. Tech reporters are trying to scoop each other to be the first to report on spec sheets about mass produced consumer electronics products. There's nothing valuable there, except to the Apple's and Googles, and Samsungs, who get valuable advertising for free.

Also, she's charging too little. The problem with what we used to call paid newsletters, is the marketing costs. You need salespeople on the phone all day long selling the subscriptions. She should be charging $3,999 not $399. 

I wish her and the team the best of luck, the more experimentation we see with media business models, the more likely we'll see one emerge as self-sustaining, and that will inspire others.

Update: There's an interview with Jessica Lessin in DigiDay.

Why A New Tech News Site Spurns Ads for Subscriptions | Digiday

Why aren't you taking any advertising?
Right now we're not. I really don't think the ad business model is aligned with our mission. Any publication that makes a meaningful amount of money through advertising ends up writing stories that generate a lot of traffic to generate a lot of ad dollars. Publications wrestle with that editorial decision. The bar for each of our articles is "is this worth paying for?"

She's right about the ad model being unworkable for a serious publication. I'm not sure subscription is the best solution. I think possibly a sponsored model where key brands get behind a serious publication because they want to promote serious journalism could be a way forward for news organizations.

News wants to be free and every journalist wants their stories read as widely as possible rather than locked away. Companies should get behind serious journalism as a social good. 

Also, the subscription model has one huge flaw: A free news site,  such as Business Insider can buy a subscription and then if you have a scoop, they'll publish it for free and get more traffic. All news wants to be free and Business Insider will make sure it is.

It's ironic that the ad media business model could drag down "The Information" as it tries to avoid its pitfalls in chasing pageviews.

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