Paid Content: An Intellectually Bankrupt Model

The revived attempts to charge for access to news content online are moves of desperation, not reasoned strategy. Just listen to the explanations from two industry executives leading the charge.

News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch says “It is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning.”

And as MediaNews Group Inc. CEO William Dean Singleton announced last week that his 54 daily newspapers would begin charging for online content, he wrote: “We cannot continue to give all of our content away for free.”

What you hear from these men are reasons they don't like the free-with-advertising model, or reasons they think people SHOULD have to pay for their product. You hear frustration, and you hear Ego. You don't hear a reason that charging for content will work.

I hope Dean Singleton actually reads news coverage about his paid-content move. If he reads the San Francisco Chronicle's story, he'll see two people offering wise words that he should consider. The first is from Vivian Schiller, president and chief executive of National Public Radio who ran the TimesSelect paid content experiment for NYTimes.com:
"What scares me about serious news organizations putting up pay walls is that not only are they going to kill their relevance by locking the content out of the national dialogue, but also the advertisers will flee."
The second point has to do with the REALITY of how people consume news and whether they WOULD pay for it, beyond Singleton's opinion that they should. Paul Grabowicz, an associate dean and director of the new media program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism:

"People were abandoning what we were doing long before the Internet came along. Is there any business model that is going to support journalism at the level of say a big metropolitan paper that operates as essentially a monopoly? No, those days are gone."

What might work, he said, are models based on coverage of "very local content, based in neighborhoods, towns and cities, content or news organized around different topics."

Now that is some reporting that Singleton should be willing to pay for, and should pay attention to.


New Kindle won't save newspapers

There is lots of chatter flying around Twitter this morning about the new big-screen Kindle to be announced in May. Much of it is driven by this report in the New York Times about how some daily papers are pinning hopes to this.

It is false and potentially harmful hope, in that it may again give newspaper folks a sense of comfort that stifles will for the REAL INNOVATIONS that are needed.

Electronic display of the same old newspaper page is not going to be anyone's savior. It's still the same content in the same broadsheet-page package with the same old limitations and entirely the same faltering business model underlying it.

Anyone who won't pick up a printed newspaper for 50 cents is not going to buy a $500-$600 (estimated) big-screen kindle so they can read the newspaper. This will be a bridge technology adopted by some upper-middle-class baby boomers who already read the print newspaper and can afford a new toy. But the Kindle-like devices will not reach any of the markets that newspapers are losing to other online competitors.

As for the business model, it is not improved. Newspapers would still be planning to display ads on their Kindle pages from department stores (another dying business), and realtors and car dealers (who have nothing to advertise right now).

Newspapers need entirely new ways of covering communities, especially by getting the public involved and becoming the key online gathering spot for their local communities. Doing the same old thing on electronic paper won't cut it.