Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Tag: Online Revenue Models

Enquirer Editor comments on print-first initiative

Cincinnati Enquirer editor Tom Callinan has a column in Sunday’s paper (online now) about the Enquirer’s evolving First in Print initiative.

He also gives a shout-out to ZJ and its commenters. Check it out.

Times chose quick bucks over a lasting audience

If you read here yesterday – or just about any other journalism blog online – you know about the New York Times‘ plan to charge for online content beginning in 2011.

The reaction in my own newsroom has largely been one of relief. Most of the journalists I work with are less experienced with the expectations of the online audience and are, understandably, very protective of their work. Many have been arguing with me for years that we shouldn’t just “give our content away for free online” (even though we’ve essentially been giving it away for free in print since the beginning of newspapers).

It’s a short-sighted philosophy that is borne out of the naivete from years or working in that bygone era where news was a monopoly. It isn’t anymore – not even close – and online readers care less than they ever did about who writes the news they read (or why).

Felix Salmon at Reuters really underscores the glaring truth behind the NYT’s charge plan, saying it is an act of desperation from a company that still believes it is big enough to matter more to readers than a website that doesn’t charge for content.

“This is, of course, exactly the approach that the NYT’s management would take if it felt that it was managing a company in terminal decline, and wanted to squeeze as many dollars out of it as possible before it dies. Successful media companies go after audience first, and then watch revenues follow; failing ones alienate their audience in an attempt to maximize short-term revenues.”

The fact of the matter is that any sort of pay wall will inevitably alienate a core of online readers, particularly those without any real sense of loyalty to a particular news source. Worse yet, this audience is not only a primary audience we hope to keep around in the future, it is also a very, very valuable audience to advertisers.

Advertising Age noted yesterday that the heaviest Times Online users, those reportedly about to start getting charged, are the last ones any site wants to drive away because they are attractive to advertisers. The most frequent online readers are also the ones we as websites know the most about thanks to our site analytics.

Unlike our print readership, we can know without doubt where our online readers come from, what technology they use, what time of day they are online and, most importantly, we can piece together what they like based on the story sets they choose.

In this plan, the Times is giving up on one potential source of long-term revenue and a chance to build audience for a quick make-a-buck scheme that could be very detrimental in the long run.

And another thing to consider is just how many subscribers does the Times think it will gain in the online only space? Last week, Alan Mutter analyzed a survey that compared the number of  print subscribers who subscribe online at news sites with pay walls or e-editions. It turns out only 2.4% of those who are loyal enough to buy a paper are also willing to pay to read exclusive content online.

While I’m not sure this is a very fair indication of overall online subscription adoption, it is alarming to see that print subscribers, who we likely assumed would be the first to pay online, are not so eager to shell out money for online content. Once the print audience declines to a sliver, what does this say for the future of the subscription?

In asking readers to change, will the NY Times change too?

The New York Times announced today that it will begin charging online readers for unlimited access to articles beginning in 2011.

The plan suggests that online readers who do not subscribe to the print product will be asked to pay a flat rate to access articles after a certain number of site visits. They have not outlined how many articles a non-subscriber could visit before being asked to pay, but it could be anywhere from three or four to ten. The plan is obviously aimed at protecting their print product by making some pieces unavailable for free online while saying a little prayer that they can still make some money off their “frequent” online readers.

While I think it’s great that the NYT will have some system in place for the occasional reader (as opposed to an all-or-nothing pay wall), one can’t help but wonder how long their “frequent readers” will remain frequent. While I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to try out, the Times execs will need to readjust their expectations for their online readership stats when they go forward with this plan.

I know I don’t visit the Times Online every day, but will if I hear about a good movie review, interesting recipe or perceived trend story of the day. It’s in those quirky features that the Times may lose its foothold as a must-read with those “frequent readers” in question. In fact, it may have to question it’s entire content strategy.

To see what I mean, take a look at the Times’ most emailed list. Those are the sort of stories – in addition to the occasional style or column – that these “frequent readers” have sent to them or find via Google. They aren’t occasionally visiting the Times to catch up on city government news – they’re coming from all over the nation and the world to read about those outrageous New Yorkers taking their four-year-olds to get pedicures or see what Tom Friedman has to say about China.

These sort of stories, while interesting, may not have enough utility to a reader to warrant a subscription or regular fee. You can get the headlines from somewhere else – the rest is just gravy. Not everyone wants to pay for gravy. The Times learned that before when they did their two-year freemium plan called TimesSelect, which limited access to opinion pieces and other online features. They shut it down in 2007 because, surprise surprise, closing off part of your website kills your search engine optimization and web traffic.

They will get smaller traffic numbers. They will fall in online metrics stats when compared to other sites. They’ll need to be ready for that – and the (further) drop in online ad revenue that goes with it.

They may also want to reconsider the kind of content they produce if this “frequent reader” base depletes. They may have to largely abandon their online bread-and-butter in that most emailed list. If those formerly frequent readers try to stay below whatever the monthly visit limit is, they may want to use their tokens on something more substantial than, say, a trend story about designer shoes for dogs. They may not want to pay – or ask their friends to pay – for the content they used to email or share so freely on Facebook or Twitter. It may be time to rethink whether or not those sort of stories should be written at all, especially if the Times ends up cutting staff again.

In the meantime, the rest of us in the newspaper industry are content to let the Times be the canary in the coal mine. We’ll see if they stick with it and if it manages to make money in the end, though even if it does work, it may not be scaleable for the small daily or metro. I guess we’ll see what happens in 2011…

Recommended links: Freemium models, ideas and more

Oh, Rupert

News Corp’s Murdoch says he’ll hide his content from Google very soon. I’ll believe it when I see it. And if he does do it, how long will it take for regret to set in?

Pay Models

Alan Mutter points to the indicators and recent comments from newspaper execs that all point to a continuation of free news online at most outlets. A few places are going freemium, most notably the Star Tribune, who is mimicking the success of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with a premium sports service. The discussion in the comments is good too.

More on “freemium” content at the SF Chronicle and BusinessWeek.

Social Media

STATS: Has Twitter Flatlined Just Short of Mainstream? – For a long time, Twitter was gorwing exponentially, as was Facebook. But then Twitter evened out and Facebook just kept going. What happened?

Facebook Ads Now Let You Target Friends of Your Fans – Want to advertise to the friends of the people who are already fans of your company on Facebook? Now you can, thanks to the “friends of connections” targeting feature that was just rolled out by the social networking site.

How Twitter is Changing the Face of Media – Nothing new here, but it is a nice little overview of how far the news industry has come in using Twitter. Mashable also has a shoutout for social media’s effects on local news.
Mashable has 5 Impressive Real-Life Google Wave Use Cases for those who still aren’t sure what to do with those invites.

Speaking of Wave experiments, RedEye has ventured onto Wave. As much as I applaud experimentation with news technology, I really have to question RedEye on this approach. It’s like advertising that you’re having a party, but only a few of your readers will actually be able to go. They seem to forget Wave’s still in preview mode and not everyone has an invite.

Links roundup: Media law news, paid content and crazy ideas

Media Law News

Geanne Rosenberg, writing for the Nieman Lab, jumps into the Federal Shield conversation, asserting that student journalists should also get the protections of their professional counterparts. If you read this blog, you know I’m a big proponent for citizen journalists, bloggers and other “non-professionals” to get this protection, so kudos to her for recognizing the rights of students as well.

The Nieman Lab has an overview of a longer paper from Marion Fremont-Smith at Harvard law about the non-profit model for funding news. There are a lot of questions out there as to whether or not tax law might need to be changed to allow for a current for-profit news org to become non-profit. Fremont-Smith’s paper argues there should be no new guidelines or legislation needed to make this happen.

A very interesting case is going on right now where TV personality Glenn Beck is essentially trying to use domain name laws to out an online critic (and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere). While it goes against the reason behind the law, it certainly is a creative way to circumvent other media law to take down those who oppose your point of view.

Who’s charging for content – or not

For those keeping score….

Crazy ideas worth hearing

Robert Niles has a provocative idea – evaluate whether or not your site really needs to be in Google News, Crazy? Maybe, but check it out. There’s some potentially mind-blowing food for thought about why news sites and blogs may not want to be involved with Google News – and it isn’t about that silly  “freeloading” nonsense. He argues that search engine page views aren’t “quality” views and they might be leading to more spam.

Or, if you really hate Google and you’re Rupert Murdoch, you’ll insist the search engine is stealing your stuff against your will. Google finally had enough of the News Corp. owner, saying that if he really doesn’t want Google indexing his sites, he can be removed. Of course, this blogger thinks Murdoch knew that already.

Newspaper-sponsored blog networks! Catch the wave! While it certainly isn’t the first such blog network (ahem), the Guardian is hiring bloggers to cover local news.

And seriously, it’s been said before and said again, this time by Paid Content: When is someone going to buy Breaking News Online ? They’re the best there is at breaking news online – and yet, they are still independent.

And a word or two about the Twitter

Social Media Today has a great bit of coverage about Twitter lately i just had to share.

For one, there’s a much-needed reality check on Twitter’s trending topics from the folks at Social Media Today, more importantly, do those topics really reflect what people are actually talking about or what is really going on in the world?

They also take a refreshing look at Twitter lists from the “quality over quantity” perspective. In other words, it isn’t a popularity contest to get listed a lot, especially wen there are a lot of lists.

And get ready to take down your “English only” Twitter search filter. Soon enough, we’ll be able to translate tweets with no problem.

Roundup: Social media innovations and business models

Check it -it’s a rundown of news and notes on social media innovations, more pay model plans and why you shouldn’t look silly on the internets.

Take Note

  • According to the internets, More Employers Use Facebook To Vet New Hires Than LinkedIn, hence why I keep stressing why you should A. Be on these networks and B. Be doing it well enough to not look dumb.
  • And not that it should be news to anyone here, but Twitter is The New Way Mainstream Media Breaks News. I can’t preach it enough around my paper – let’s break news on Twitter first, then worry about the links. We do this at my paper every day – and sometimes I won’t even bother tweeting a headline if we aren’t first in our market or it isn’t original. The traffic from Twitter isn’t much anyway – so it’s better to be first than first with a link. Of course, we still want to be factual, too (that one’s for you, Bruce).

Keeping News Alive

  • The Online Journalism blog asks if the (UK) Times’ Culture subscriptions is a potential model for charging for online newspapers. Why? It’s more than just a newspaper subscription – it’s a membership with incentives like ticket deals, exclusive access and more. It’s just one way to make a pay wall worth it if this kind of model would move to the web.
  • Speaking of paying for news, a CUNY project sought to find New business models for journalism to answer, “What happens to journalism in a top-25 metro market if a newspaper fades away. Can journalism be sustained? And how?” There are four total – some of which have been panned and a couple of others that have real legs (though none are really earth-shattering).

Innovations in Social Media

  • Mashable reports that our friends at TweetMeme are working on Retweetable Comments. Huh? You’ve seen on several blogs and articles where you can tweet article from a button, but this would allow people to tweet individual comments on those blogs. A very cool way to get comments to go viral (and encourage commenting in the first place).
  • Speaking of Twitter, Patrick Thornton has been hard at work at Bringing engagement to an old, one-way medium. His marketing plan for a new novel is exactly what social media marketing should be – fun, creative and original. While his exact approach doesn’t exactly work for a news entities’ needs, using social media as a customer service platform is a must. Why else even be on Twitter if you can’t answer questions?
  • If you haven’t checked it out yet, the Huffington Post has embraced the  age of “My” news with a new Facebook Connect hookup that allows interaction between Facebook profiles and user activity on their sites.  The sync is  a no-brainer for an operation of their kind – and a lot to live up to. Something like this takes a lot of work, but it would be great to see more news orgs (and yes, smaller ones) jumping into a forward-thinking arrangement like this.

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.

‘Flash is overrated’ – and other links

Recommended reading: Content, traffic and pay walls

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