Bye-Bye Free News - Murdoch Joins The Pay Debate
Media emperor Rupert Murdoch is advocating charging an online subscription fee for The New York Times, much like the model currently in use by his own paper, the Wall Street Journal.
Last year I came to the conclusion that the only way to save good journalism is to charge money for it. Online advertising simply cannot cover the costs of journalists, editors, foreign bureaus, photographers, videographers, production editors, sub-editors, admins, web production staff, software engineers, media engineers, offices, pension plans, admins, electricity, travel, healthcare, IT infrastructure . . . and lunches. In recent weeks a lot of my leading figures in the media have come to the same conclusion.
News is not a commodity, it just seems that way because it has been offered for free. News releases (press releases or social media releases) are a commodity, and freely available because they aren't "news stories," they are one-sided communications from corporations or their agents.
There is a growing realization that the right business model for newspapers is to charge money for the news. There is a lot of debate about how to do it, if it should be micro-payments, or if it should be a subscription for a package of news, or some other method.
The most important thing is that there is a broad realization that the free news business model is not viable. Whether we like it or not, some of the news, at least from quality news organizations, will no longer be free.
I often hear the argument that people have gotten used to free news and so they won't pay for it, they'll get their news from bloggers, from other sources on the Internet. That's fine, that's their choice, people can try their luck looking at free news on the Internet and figuring out if they trust the source. If they have time on their hands, they can research if a news story is true, or has been "hacked," and if it can be trusted.
I believe that there will be enough people that will want to save time and go straight to a trusted source and pay for the news. That's the beauty of the Internet, it is not "either/or" it's "and."
Some people will remember the early days of the Internet and how the first online advertising created a controversy -- people said Internet users wouldn't accept being subjected to advertising. Well, people did accept advertising. People will accept paying for online news.
It is worth pointing out, that like in those the early days of the Internet, these are still the early days of the Internet. We'll get used to these changes and plenty more.
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A business model that is based uniquely on expensive editorial quality but that derives revenue only from advertisers who only indirectly use or pay for that quality is a business model that cannot work. There is simply no example, not one – in print, on line, in television – of quality content offered for free ever resulting in a viable business.
Media innovation cannot be dependent on advertisers, they will not take the risk. Innovation must find a foothold with people who demand that great news be available.
Brill is absolutely convinced of the soundness of his opinion — publishers have to raise their self-esteem, treasure what they do and get righteous about charging for it on the Internet. It's not the answer to how the press could have fixed itself a decade ago. For Brill, it's the answer to what needs to be done today.
This is capitalism, folks. Nothing worth something is free. A free press is worth 15 cents a day.
Jobs -- including jobs in journalism -- just aren't what they used to be. Earlier this week, consultant Robert Patterson observed after reviewing trends in unemployment statistics that "the idea of a 'job' as a full-time object that can support a person or even a family, is disappearing."
Not that it's anything we think the New York Times Company should do, but we thought it was worth pointing out that it costs the Times about twice as much money to print and deliver the newspaper over a year as it would cost to send each of its subscribers a brand new Amazon Kindle instead.
Two weeks ago, we detailed our plan to save the New York Times (NYT):
* 40% cost cuts by 2010
* Increased print subscription price
* Implement online subscription fee
For the latter, we were roundly blasted by socialist digerati, who regard subscriptions as heresy.
Well, we're glad to see there is intelligent life where it counts--at the New York Times. Editor Bill Keller says the paper is committed to getting consumers to pay for its content and will explore the idea of online subscriptions. We only hope Bill's wisdom finds its way upstairs!