Content you can't afford not to pay for

Posted on 08. Jun, 2009 by in News Ecosystem, Paid Content, Revenue

We’ll start this week with a final thought on last week’s discussion of the various pay-for-content models that have been presented to newspaper publishers recently. At the Neiman website, reporter Zachary Seward posted a transcript of his conversation with Steve Brill, in which the mogul explains some of the assumptions for his forthcoming subscription platform, Journalism Online. The entire thing is definitely worth a read, or a listen, but here is a key passage:

Brill: We were meeting with the publisher of a major, you know, city newspaper, not a national newspaper, but a big city newspaper. And he said, well, what do you think you need to achieve critical mass? I said, in this town, I’m looking at it. Which is to say, this thing that, you know, if you’re the publisher of a newspaper, you know, in a major city, one assumes your, your reporting, especially on local issues, is really the critical mass, especially if you’re the only newspaper in that city.

Seward: At this point, I guess it’s fair to say in most cities, that they’re unrivaled, but there’s certainly a working theory out there that the minute any of those big-city papers start charging, they’re going to encourage competition that they don’t currently have. That the free blogs that are much derided now for not providing reporting will, in fact, you know, begin to put up much, much more competition—

Brill: Why? Why will they be able to? How are they going to pay for it?

Seward: Perhaps by starting with a model that is, you know, that isn’t a 150-person newsroom, and so even if the end product is not as good, it’s free, and that’s sort of the hardest thing to compete with.

Brill: But again, if what you’re striving for is to get the 5 or 10 percent of your most committed readers to pay, then you can afford to have that happen. And you can’t afford not to do it.

Why, indeed? In the coming weeks, we’ll be using this space to set out some of the ways they might be able to pay for it in the new news ecosystem.

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