paul nicholson

Papers and Money

In Entertainment, History/Politics on January 23, 2010 at 11:33 am

PR Maven Margie Newman just made an interesting blog post about the much-discussed announcement that the New York Times will begin charging for content. That led me to leave a very long comment, which I realized I should really just flesh out into a post of my own:

The interesting thing to me about information portals like this is that many people (myself included) assume that the business model should be one of two things: either pay for content or ad driven. Not both. I’d be fine with paying for something that is worth it if it means never having to see an ad on the site again (see: Pandora), and likewise don’t mind visiting a site with ads if it means I get good content for free. The interesting thing of course is that traditional dead-tree editions of the paper had both: pay for the paper, still has ads.

(continued after the break)Having said that, I do think the newspaper industry has drug its collective feet in lurching into the 21st century and there is still plenty of room for innovation when it comes to a business model. And the New York Times’ “metered model” is not the one to go with.

Here’s the trick though: right now I’ve only seen a subscription-based pay model really work on a practical level. Users are denied access to all but a few articles and everyone else pays a large quarterly/annual fee for access to everything else (see: The Nashville Post). That’s not what the old papers used to be. I used to be able to not worry about picking up a copy of the paper unless it had something that interested me. If it has a quality piece or something really worthy of being read I could grab a copy for a very nominal fee. Right now there’s no site that I’m aware of that lets me pay $0.50 to have access to that day’s content. Or $.10 for a single article.


2 reason:
1) Some blogger out there is going to either straight plagiarize and repost the article in 30 minutes (or at least summarize it well)
2) Micropayments are still not common enough or well supported online.

In the meantime, with a subscription model, we are left having to shell out serious cash (usually in the $75+ range at least) for an annual subscription to a paper that is 90% filled with content that I could get for free just about anywhere else. Just so I could read a single article that looked intriguing?

Meanwhile we have the New York Times’ “metered” model. First off – this isn’t metered at all. Metered would be as described above with micropayments. Something which I think would work and will work someday. The world just isn’t ready for it. No, the NYT’s “metered” model is supposed to somehow keep track of an individual users access to the site and allow unfettered access to content up to a certain intake level. Once a given user accesses content more than a “certain amount” (nothing has yet specified where this magic wall will be), they will be forced to pay a full subscription fee to have access to more content (presumably for a month?). The trouble with this of course: how are you keeping track of users? If it is by login on the website, then this is an utter joke. All I have to do is log out and continue browsing if I want to access more content. If it is tracked by browser cookies, likewise easily avoided (clear out cookies, switch browsers all together, or use the now ubiquitous “private mode” on your browser of choice). Track by IP address? My DSL connection has a dynamic IP address, as do most people’s. We haven’t even mentioned the various different ways people access content now. I split my browsing almost 33/33/33 between my work laptop/connection, my Android smartphone, and my home PC. The chances of running into this “magic wall” and needing to pay for content sound slim for someone like me.

So they have a pay model for their shareholders to feel warm and cuddly about. “We have a revenue stream identified!”. Too bad it is going to be a fraction of what they probably forecast.

There’s a lot of work left to be done in the pay-for-content world. It will be no easy task.

  • clarasax

    I have 14-day trial subscriptions of The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor on my nook ereader, and I was surprised to find no ads. I actually would be willing to pay a small fee ($1 per magazine issues or less) AND page past ads to have access to the e-reader version of a publication I really like (but still waiting Real Simple to jump into the e-ink world).

  • Paul, kind of you to link to my post; even more fabulous that you created your own post out of that AMAZING comment you left on my blog! You are right: it won't be easy. I'm just happy NYT is willing to stick its neck out and give it a go. It won't likely be the model they keep in the long run, but it's a start.