Monday, May 18, 2009

Really? It's The Business Model?

Sorry to momentarily feel prescient, but I was amused to read this morning so much crosstalk about the idea that newspapers, and other media, are starting to think about the ad model a little more seriously.
The FT has a nice article up relating to Rupert Murdoch's latest thinking about content, ads, and whether or not to make the Fox audience pay to receive.
The big idea, as always, has been to say, okay, the ad revenue isn't there (yet.) to go ad-only with respect to revenue, so what about subscriptions.
Content has always been a mix of sub vs. ads with respect to keeping reporters at the phones, so this is surprising.
What's struck me over the past 15 years has been the idea that micropayments haven't caught on.
We, who still buy papers from newsstands, have been well at the epicenter of the micropayment model, trotting out our silver in exchange for news, amusement, and other print-based delights. The ability to facilitate a $0.75 transaction through the Internet, however, doesn't seem to have caught on in the same way that AT&T's monopolistic relationship with Apple's iPhone. As a consequence, Internet news has suffered -- only to be supplanted or supplemented (depending on the vertical market) by the blogosphere.
So, now, Rupert's elected to test the micropayment sphere to address his empire's online revenue issues.
Well and good.
The pricepoint for online news is an area that has defied many analysts, thinktanks and whathaveyou.
I've long been an advocate for a living wage for journalists, since I think journalism is vital to a well-informed democracy.
I've blogged here about the notion that entertainment vs. information continues to be a struggle for major networks. I've also blogged here that local and regional journalism is more than a first draft of history -- it is also, when aggregated -- the rough draft of history, rich in footnotes, commentary, and primary sources. Also, I should say, that local and regional journalism OUGHT to be able to charge more for their archives than national journalism for the following reasons:
a) It's more granular.
b) And therefore richer in content and primary sources.
c) Obits, the first thing any serious journalist learns to write (because it teaches compassion and accuracy), are gold for avid audiences thirsty for genealogical information.
d) High school sports are so bloody important for people with skin (and bloodline) in the game.
e) Most people are regionally bound by blood, history, and the caretaking gene -- the one that says I should care about people, families, and events in my immediate contorno because that's what is immediate, accessible, and therefore important to my family, my friends, my contacts. Because for most people, still, geography is destiny, as well as community.
f) National journalism will always be ADD. Local and regional journalism is more OCD, and therefore inclined to follow stories. Local and regional offers depth. National will always cleave to those topics that are, with few variations, more surface-oriented. National captures the zeitgeist of the body politic, when they're right. But they're also more likely to aggregate around teapot-tempests that, ultimately, are silly, and manipulable (as in the recent Teabag party).
I don't, therefore, believe that national news markets should be able to charge as much as can local or regional newsproviders. I think the "give it away/freeware" model will benefit them much more than can micro-subscriptions (ie, pay per article). Whereas small news outlets can, and should, charge a premium.
Because local avidity should not be under-rated. It caters to an audience of enthusiasts that will show less price sensitivity, because they will always care more than "outsiders."
Hope this helps shape the debate.

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