Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Tag: paid content

“Paid content” myth sprouts more pay wall ideas

I don’t know if I would say the talk amongst journalist and journalism theorists regarding paid content is at a “fever pitch” (which was almost my headline), but it certainly seems to be on everyone’s mind of late.

A lot of that has to do with one of the big dogs of mainstream media, Rupert Murdoch, deciding to take the plunge and charge for content online. Whether it will work or not is anyone’s guess – but I’ll bet it will for the likes of News Corp.’s wsj.com. Why them and not the other News Corp. properties? Simple – they offer a utility (in-depth financial content) that isn’t available anywhere else. It also helps that the WSJ has a pretty affluent reader base with expense accounts for this sort of thing. Sorry, I don’t see the same love for the content of the New York Post.

Millionaire/Online Gadfly Mark Cuban agrees, suggesting Murdoch offer a combined online subscription plan for all of the News Corp. properties. It’d be bold – and it would package in access to news content to those looking for sports, political or entertainment content online.Of course, it’s also completely mental.

Aside from the highly specialized content from the WSJ (which would still need speed and delivery improvements to be worth a subscription), who would pay for this entertainment or sports content? Fox Sports is kind of a joke compared to ESPN – and if this study is any indication, online consumers of the future don’t want to pay for access to entertainment media – they want to own it.

This University of Hertfordshire (UK) study of 14 to 24-year-olds found:

  • 89 percent still want to “own” music in the form of MP3s to share and copy how they wish.
  • 85 percent of those using illegal peer-to-peer downloaders would pay for an unlimited MP3 download service
  • 78 percent do not want to pay for a streaming music service

Sure, that’s about music – but it very well could be indicative of an overall attitude about online content one is paying for.  Put in “news content” for “music” and “aggregators” for “peer-to-peer” – and it makes sense. Is it ridiculous to theorize that readers may want to be able to fully use (copy, paste, share, re-publish) content they pay for – or will they be OK just reading it under a subscription plan? It’s something to think about.

Cuban also suggests Murdoch’s sites block access to their content from aggregators with this pay wall. What he doesn’t seem to take into account is that A. It would also be blocking interested readers from possibly even knowing their content exists and B. Who’s to stop a more aggressive aggregator from subscribing to News Corp.  and simply copying and pasting stories in full from those sites? He says the aggregators would then have to rely on the AP and Reuters for all their news – I say it just challenges them to be bolder in how they steal content. (You say tomato, yada yada…)

And it isn’t like Murdoch has the best relationship with news aggregators anyway – he’s threatening to sue Google and Yahoo for quoting and linking to his News Corp. sites’ content. While that’s all based in the somewhat off-kilter media laws of the UK and not the U.S. that regard linking a bit differently, it still shows a lack of interest in actually working with those who can bring in readers.

If only the likes of Murdoch, Cuban, Marburger, Schultz, the AP and everyone else arguing for paid content would just read this simple post from another KDMC fellow, Chris O’Brien.

He breaks down discusses the prevailing myth that readers once paid for news content. It’s something only journalists and idealists really believe. In actuality, readers’ subscriptions were paying for a product that provided a lot more than just news content – it gave them access to ads, comics and a sense of community we have yet to really tap into online.  He, like me, suggests we all move past that idea of “paid content” to really get to the business of saving news with new innovations and simply doing a better job at giving readers something useful.

Editors Note: Big thanks to Steve Buttry for pointing out my mistake. For some unfathomable reason, I kept insisting it was Media News and not News Corp. that is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Sigh. Don’t write blog posts in the early morning hours, kids.

What’s the reasoning behind a pay wall, anyway?

Besides all of the questions we should be asking ourselves before we put up a pay wall, it’s worth a look to examine the underlying reason for it. This morning, I stumbled across a comment on a blog that perfectly underscores the very questions I have been asking about the push for pay walls.

As UK blogger Adam Westbrook cheered on Rupert Murdoch’s decision to enact pay walls on his sites, commenter Dani Bora said what’s largely been missing from the debate (unless you read here, which, obviously, you do):

…we’ll need to gauge what are the media orgs’ motives to charge for their content: is it to actually make journalism better — more journos, more pro imagery, new delivery options, etc…— or is it only to prop up ailing print operations and shrinking profits?

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Judging from the people who are always banging the drum for pay walls, I think I know the answer. I don’t believe the proposals are made to prop up print, per se, but rather to prop up an old ideal that all journalism has monetary value to somebody because, darnit, it does to us.

We don’t want to have to consider that maybe our online content just isn’t worth as much as we think it should be to our readers. I know from experience that the last people you want to talk to about charging for online content are the reporters and editors who put in the work to get it there. To many, it isn’t even a matter of ‘if” when it comes to charging for online content – it’s “when”.

I suggest a quick read over this excellent post from the Knight Digital Media Center about the sort of questions a news org should consider before charging for content. While all of the questions are important, two of the five are potentially quite difficult for a journalist to stomach: “Do I have content worth paying for?” and “What are my readers willing to pay for my work?”

Only after you get out and talk to the readers in your market can you really determine if a pay model is the right answer – or if you’re doing it for the right reasons in the first place.

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