Part two of WRNN’s David Simon interview. Part one here.
Monthly Archives: January 2010
The revelation that Newsday has only 35 paid online subscribers may seem, at first glance, like bad news for the New York Times. But it’s not – at least not necessarily.
As PaidContent (which, ironically, does not appear to be a pay site) points out, Newsday’s online subscription subscription base was pretty much bound to be small because so many households in its local market get a free subscription with their cable package. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Newday probably figured more than three dozen people would subscribe to the site. Still, one pay wall does not equal another. Newsday is not the Times.
There’s another thing at work here, though. The lesson of paid content is…wait for it…people will pay for good content. Shocking, right? Say what you will about the Times, it’s still got a robust site with a number of popular blogs and, more to the point, it still does plenty of original reporting. I am not familiar enough with Newday’s content to single it out for criticism, but I’d give this message to any newspaper considering a pay model: don’t expect people to pay for stories they can get elsewhere. You have to offer a differentiated product, preferably one that does one or two things, really, really well. That’s not say that only niche products can succeed with pay models. It is, however, to say that the way to succeed on the Internet is not focusing on fluff or writing ten blog posts per day or beating everyone to scoops by four minutes (though those things can help, to an extent). The secret is being good. It’s writing well and reporting well, and, hopefully, using the Internet to further that.
NYT’s metered system may present some issues – are people really going to pay if they can read one or two or three articles for free? However, it depends on how the wall is structured, frankly. Where you put your pay wall is probably more important than whether or not your have one (which is why TimesSelect failed). I can’t help but think that someday, someone is going to figure this out.
Apparently computer scientist Jaron Lanier has a new book out arguing for a gorvernment-administered system of micropayments for all web content providers. This would include everything from music to news. This raises, in my mind, two questions:
1) Why the government? Lanier argues that private businesses like PayPal lack the resources to set up such a system. That maybe true – I’m no computer scientist – but surely someone can do it. I don’t see why the government needs to be involved.
2) Why micropayments? Honestly, I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument why micropayments make sense for journalism. Are people really going to be more willing to pay for individual articles as opposed to subscribing to a site? It works for music, I’d guess, but music and news are quite different. I’m open to being persuaded otherwise, though.
New York Magazine reports that the New York Times is to erect a pay wall sometime in the next several months. The system will be akin to that currently employed by the Financial Times – a limited number of free articles, then you pay.
Will it work? The Times has failed with pay content in the past, but, frankly, that was because the mustache of understanding is just not worth fifty bucks a year (though I do like David Brooks and Paul Krugman). The entire site, however, may be worth about that much to readers. For the record, I’d probably pay around fifty or sixty dollars for a year’s access to nytimes.com. I would not, however, pay a full newspaper subscription fee.
Another issue, though, is how the ‘meter’ will work. Let’s say each reader is allowed two free articles per day. What percentage of visitors to the site read more than that? Can the Times make money off that traffic alone? Will the pay wall discourage those who currently read a lot of the Times’ content from reading it? I like reading the FT, but I’ve never considered paying for it.
In any case, it’s good to see the paper is trying something, and not the half-assed TimesSelect model. I think by now it is quite clear that online advertising does not generate enough revenue on its own to fund a major news organization.
We recently shot some footage of the last days of Editor & Publisher, the venerable chronicler of, well, chroniclers. The newspaper about newspapers (yes, I get a kick out of repition) was launched in 1884. It was bought by Nielsen Business Media in 1999, and shut down by those very same owners in December.
Anyway, E&P’s Steve Outing had a pretty insightful column last week discussing what newspaper companies could have done right in the internet age.
Here’s the first step:
1. In 1994-95, newspaper executives recognize that the Web is something with the potential to rock their world, and increase R&D budgets significantly in order to plan for and begin building new businesses based on fast-developing new technology. Knight Ridder (now defunct) does not shut down its pioneering Information Design Laboratory (1992-95) in Boulder, Colorado, and transitions into a corporation that goes on to build successful Internet businesses that complement its core newspaper publishing business.
He then goes to discuss what can be done now that, you know, we’ve all come to realize that the internet is not a trend. Here’s his conception of which newspaper companies will survive the still-ongoing digital transition:
9. Some newspaper companies survive the journey across the chasm between the old print-centric model and a new digital model. These are most likely the companies whose board of directors install new leadership not chained to the success of past business models. Among the survivors, we’re more likely to see repeats of National Public Radio’s digital transition, where a new CEO (Vivian Schiller) was hired because of her digital experience, mindset and vision, even though she had less of that for radio.
I’ll try to have some more thoughts on this – and maybe an exploration of the Information Design Laboratory, an idea that intrigues me – in a later post.
David Simon, creator of The Wire and a former Baltimore Sun reporter, discusses the future of newspapers with Andrew Whitman of W-RNN TV in New York State.