How to really save your newspaper

by Jason Preston on February 9, 2009

metered contentWalter Isaacson, former Managing Editor of Time Magazine, has penned a cover story for the latest edition titled How to Save Your Newspaper. It re-hashes some of the points that have been tossed around in the conversation at large for the last six months or more, but it’s worth reading because it presents them so damn eloquently.

It’s also worth reading because it really opens the conversation about finding a business solution for the news industry. Unfortunately, that’s where it stops. The solution that Isaacson offers is disappointingly vague and, I think, fatally flawed.

In my humble opinion, this is how you really save your newspaper.

Saving newsbrands

After reading the article it’s clear to me that Isaacson and I are basically in line on our solutions for saving the news business (newspapers will hereafter be referred to as “newsbrands”): users must be charged money for access to the news.

Offering content for free over the Internet, as newsbrands have been doing for the past decade, raises a number of economic problems which are now becoming quite obvious. For one thing, it distorts the allegiance of the paper’s business model. As Isaacson puts it:

Henry Luce, a co-founder of TIME, disdained the notion of giveaway publications that relied solely on ad revenue. He called that formula “morally abhorrent” and also “economically self-defeating.” That was because he believed that good journalism required that a publication’s primary duty be to its readers, not to its advertisers. In an advertising-only revenue model, the incentive is perverse. It is also self-defeating, because eventually you will weaken your bond with your readers if you do not feel directly dependent on them for your revenue.

He leaves out the fourth leg: classified advertising (which is different from “advertising” in my book because the revenue comes from community individuals, rather than corporate entities), which of course does make money online, just not for newspapers.

But the concept is very important: when a newsbrand no longer relies on its readers for revenue, then they become entirely beholden to the advertisers who support their operation.

As an analogy, consider your bank. Who does your bank consider a “customer?” Hint: it’s not you.

How many times have you thought to yourself, as you wait in line during your lunch break, “why doesn’t this damn bank stay open late so that I can do my banking outside of business hours?”

Answer: you’re not their customer. For a bank, “customers” are other banks and businesses who take out large loans and repay them over time, plus interest. For all intents are purposes, this isn’t a big deal, except that it manifests itself in small ways, such as a bank’s hours of operation.

In the case of a newsbrand, I’d rather they “keep hours” that are convenient for me, and not their advertisers, even if that means I have to shell out for the privilege.

Charging money

I can be like an infant banging a spoon when it comes to charging money for content. It’s right there on my about page: “good content is worth good money.”

There are a lot of arguments for why people will never pay for things online, and I’ve heard them all. At the moment, though, they are all academic: newsbrands are at a point where they need to start introducing pay structures to their content, or they will go out of business.

It’s possible, even likely, that in time the advertising market and targeting technologies will be in place to completely support an online-only newsbrand. But that’s still a one-legged stool, and it’s only half-built at the moment.

The most public failure of a paid-online system is probably TimesSelect from the New York Times. The failure of TimesSelect, or any other pay-for-news program in the past, does not preclude a pay-for-news model working now or in the future.

I’ll say that again because it’s important: past failure does not make it impossible to succeed in the future. Was Columbus the first person to sail West? (No.)

Businesses live or die based on market conditions, which encompasses an almost immeasurable number of variables: What is the target audience? What does the global economy look like? Which company is trying to charge money? How do people feel about the concept? How many other players are there in the space?

I could go on, but the point is this: circumstances have changed significantly from the last time a significant newsbrand tried to charge for online content. The future of newsbrands is a hot topic right now on the national stage. The Internet has become a more mature platform, with ever-more sophisticated technologies enabling ever-more-impressive ways to practice journalism.

And perhaps most convincing of all, people are already throwing out money right and left for subscription-based online services that wouldn’t have many a cent in 2002. FlickR, Evernote, SmugMug, Teaching Sells, Blog Mastermind, Feedburner, Remember The Milk, Box.net, StatCounter, and so on. If they’ll pay for statistics on their web sites (available for free through Google Analytics), then why won’t they pay for news?

Debunking micropayments

We’ve wandered from Isaacson and his article in TIME magazine, but here I have to come back to it because Isaacson has unfortunately jumped to the conclusion that a micropayment system will solve the revenue problems facing newsbrands today. On this point, I totally disagree.

I’ve sent an interview request to TIME, hoping to ask Isaacson a few questions, but I haven’t yet heard any response.

It’s also been pointed out to me that I have my own bias against micropayment systems; it’s true – I have an emotional hatred of systems that are designed to nickel-and-dime me. I avoid toll roads at all costs, I do not have “overdraft protection” on my bank accounts, and I refuse to buy things on Xbox Live for ridiculous, unconvertible currency called “Microsoft Points.” So that’s my bias, but it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.

Smarter people than me (I’m looking at you, Clay Shirky) have already done a fantastic job of debunking the idea behind micropayments, and I encourage you to read his article if I am unable to convince you here.

But first, let’s hear Isaacson explain why he likes the idea of micropayments from newspapers. I don’t want to be accused of mis-representing his arguments, so this is a big lift:

The key to attracting online revenue, I think, is to come up with an iTunes-easy method of micropayment. We need something like digital coins or an E-ZPass digital wallet — a one-click system with a really simple interface that will permit impulse purchases of a newspaper, magazine, article, blog or video for a penny, nickel, dime or whatever the creator chooses to charge.

Admittedly, the Internet is littered with failed micropayment companies. If you remember Flooz, Beenz, CyberCash, Bitpass, Peppercoin and DigiCash, it’s probably because you lost money investing in them. Many tracts and blog entries have been written about how the concept can’t work because of bad tech or mental transaction costs.

But things have changed. “With newspapers entering bankruptcy even as their audience grows, the threat is not just to the companies that own them, but also to the news itself,” wrote the savvy New York Times columnist David Carr last month in a column endorsing the idea of paid content. This creates a necessity that ought to be the mother of invention. In addition, our two most creative digital innovators have shown that a pay-per-drink model can work when it’s made easy enough: Steve Jobs got music consumers (of all people) comfortable with the concept of paying 99 cents for a tune instead of Napsterizing an entire industry, and Jeff Bezos with his Kindle showed that consumers would buy electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers if purchases could be done simply.

There are two levels of objection to the micropayment system: practical, and philosophical. Because the philosophical objections are really a personal issue for everyone individually, I’m not going to dwell on them; either you’re the type of person who won’t be bothered by making a purchase decision every time you click a link, or you are.

I am the latter, and I believe that so are most people – yes, iTunes lets people buy songs, but those are fundamentally different from newsbrand articles. For example, that song is still valuable to me in a week.

The practical objections are, I think, sufficient to explain why a micropayment approach to news is doomed to failure.

First, a system must be designed that would allow any Internet user to easily purchase an article from any individual news source that chooses to charge for content. It would be a tough sell for any one newspaper to put their financial fate in the hands of another paper, or even a third party tool. And of course to be useful, it would have to be consistent across 90-95% of paid online news sources, and it’s mind-boggling to think that any one system could achieve that level of adoption.

In addition, designing a tool (would it be a browser plug-in? what if the user likes a browser that’s not supported?) that would be simple enough and ubiquitous enough is a very difficult task.

Third, how do you value the content? It’s a much more complex problem that it seems. Why is this article worth half a cent when this one is worth five? Is it based on length? Popularity? What about the photo gallery? How much is this photo of the wreck worth? How much do people pay to see this shot of the Space Needle? What about user-submitted photos? Are they free? Do they get a cut of the revenue? How much do they get? What if a similar picture is available on FlickR for free?

Fourth, and most importantly, the market will not support a micropayment system of content if there is a free option available. If all newsbrands somehow decided to flip the switch at the same time and charge for news, then I guarantee several entrepreneurs would immediately begin a free newsbrand. If that news is high quality and available to everyone for free, then the vast majority of news consumers will flock to the free site as opposed to paying for content.

Result: one thriving paper that makes tons of money from advertising, because they have such a large and captive audience, and thousands of newsbrands go out of business because not enough people will pay 5 cents to read their work.

Or: all other newsbrands revert to free content in order to compete with the free newsbrand, and there is not enough advertising money to support the entire ecosystem; again, newsbrands fail.

With a micropayment system as a solution, the pendulum swings completely from one unsustainable side to another. There is no middle ground.

The solution: Metered content

Using a metered content system neatly sidesteps most, if not all, of the practical problems presented above. I’ve written about the system in the past, but here’s the concept in a nutshell:

A newsbrand would offer a certain amount of content for free (let’s say 25 articles per month) to everyone on the Internet.

That same newsbrand would then offer a premium subscription option that would lift the article limit imposed by default and offer access to additional “advanced” news content like interactive graphical elements, HD-video streams, and access to certain database services.

In essence, metered content is the newsbrand equivalent of freemium, which is the business model already working behind all of those subscription sites I listed earlier. Just think: according to Comscore, FlickR has 26 million members, and although Yahoo! won’t say how many of those members are paying members, it was already profitable when Yahoo! bought the company.

Offer some content to all users for free, and charge money for full access – mentally, it’s proven that people are already ok with this.

There’s also a perverse little point of economics in favor of this strategy: any club that is sufficiently exclusive becomes more attractive to those who are not members. Creating a “top tier” of reader is a great way to get people to drop a little cash, just so they can be in the know.

Most of the people who signed up for TimesSelect probably felt a little bit of this draw. It’s not enough to drive the service, of course, but it’s certainly a helpful psychological boost. No such “club” exists for the micropayment model.

The most difficult part of determining the metered system is going to be figuring out where to draw the paid content line. It’s probably going to be different for every newsbrand, and they’ll have to crunch the numbers themselves.

Most likely the user data is going to form a kind of power curve, and it’s a matter of placing that wall somewhere near the head of the curve, where your most likely paying market exists. I wrote a post about that process already, but in the end it’s going to be a choice that’s different for each company.

This is not a magic bullet. It still requires that newsbrands sell their content and convince people that the journalism they produce is worth paying money to support. But think about how this system works on so many levels:

  • It allows people to continue collecting news form multiple news sources all over the world without the burden of mental transaction costs. In fact every free article becomes a chance for a newsbrand to advertise their paid product.
  • It doesn’t stifle blog conversations by putting content behind an immediate pay wall (how many people would avoid clicking a link in a blog post to read the original article if it meant paying just a small amount of money?). I also believe that the conversations people have in reaction to the news are almost as valuable as the news article itself.
  • It allows newsbrands to charge people for their content while still remaining competitive with free news operations.
  • It does not require that all newsbrands act in concert, or that users rely on any particular software or universal payment system.
  • It lets newsbrands continue to put equity into their own brand, instead of having to value individual articles. Micropayments insist that you charge on an individual basis (Maureen Dowd is worth THIS, David Horsey is worth THAT, and investigative reports are rarely read, so…), whereas subscription-based models allow a business to put a value on their masthead, which from a business standpoint is a much better investment.

Running the numbers

Ultimately, the only way to find the solution is experiment with the options available, and run the numbers. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been wrong about things before, and it’s possible that I’m wrong about this.

I’d love nothing more than to see major newsbrands start to experiment with user-paid content solutions online. We may find out that getting people to pay for content is harder than I expect it will be, but then at least we will have tried, instead of just watching in shock as the number of journalistic institutions in the world plummets to dangerously low numbers.

I hope the New York Times, or the Seattle P-I, or the Seattle Times, is willing to give metered content a shot. When they do, I’ll be the first to sign up.

Incidentally, someone already asked me how newspapers would protect their for-pay database services from external competition like Everyblock, and the answer I think is here: provide the API and the data to those third party developers. Clever!

If that doesn’t make you want to sign up for my RSS feed, then I give up because it’s hopeless.

{ 11 trackbacks }

Week 6 - Class Notes « evolution and trends in digital media technologies
02.10.09 at 7:55 pm
What’s missing from the debate over paying for the news « Ink-Drained Kvetch
02.11.09 at 11:57 am
Clay Shirky weighs in on small payments again — Eat Sleep Publish
02.12.09 at 11:53 am
Printed Matters » Paywall madness: Dec. 2008 - Feb. 2009
02.20.09 at 9:12 am
What do you pay for? — Eat Sleep Publish
02.20.09 at 9:49 am
The Pitch: Roundup — Eat Sleep Publish
03.19.09 at 11:05 am
“What went wrong” with newspapers wasn’t what went wrong — Eat Sleep Publish
04.13.09 at 1:22 pm
Media Executive consider metered content — Eat Sleep Publish
04.14.09 at 3:33 pm
Online ad revenue shifting in the recession — Eat Sleep Publish
05.01.09 at 10:22 am
WSJ to find out micrpayments don’t work — Eat Sleep Publish
05.11.09 at 11:08 am
Why does Windows cost $183? — Eat Sleep Publish
08.13.09 at 11:15 am

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dw 02.09.09 at 11:43 am

The fundamental problem with metered content is that it becomes a frustrating regular reading experience. Metered has worked for newspaper archives — 25 for $10! — for a while, precisely because archived news is more similar to music than it is to today’s news.

I also think that despite what you’re suggesting, metering does push content out of the zeitgeist and will detrimentally inhibit free flow of information for a paper.

The problem I keep seeing with all these plans people are throwing around is that news itself is fungible. It doesn’t matter, really, where you’re getting your news from. News is news. Some providers have more authority, perhaps, but what you’re arguing is whether a grocery store has better produce or not, not whether bananas are essential to your daily life.

Opinion is not fungible. And I think that’s what TimesSelect got right — most people who were reading the Times were reading for Dowd/Friedman/Krugman. Where they failed was not understanding how the paywall was a wall, and end of the day if bloggers are saying “oh, there’s this great Krugman article on how the housing bubble will pop and it’ll be a disaster… but you can’t read it unless you drop some coin on it,” few will read it. And the solution to that was to offer indispensable content. Unfortunately, Krugman columns are not indispensable, not the way, say, a WSJ article on the management woes of a company you own stock in is, or an ESPN Insider article on how a player on your fantasy team is struggling to rehab his knee.

In short, the problem really comes down to charging readers for things they actually need and are willing to pay money for, understanding that, end of the day, they can get most of it elsewhere for free.

2 Paul Balcerak 02.09.09 at 11:53 am

But wouldn’t a metered content system run into the same problem as an iTunes-style system — that similar (if not the exact same) content would inevitably be offered for free on some other site?

I didn’t read the New York Times back when it required a login and honestly, if I ran into some article limit on a given site, I’d probably just navigate somewhere else and come back in a few weeks when I could view content again.

I didn’t just come here to knock over your sand castle, though, and I love this point: “iTunes lets people buy songs, but those are fundamentally different from newsbrand articles. For example, that song is still valuable to me in a week.” I think that’s a key point. The only thing I — and I suspect others — will pay money for that’s useless five minutes after I purchase it is food. I think the trick to finding success with metered content (or whatever pay model you prefer) on a newsbrand site is offering something that’s useful beyond the time one spends reading/looking at it (like a song).

I don’t have any clue what that may be.

3 Jason Preston 02.09.09 at 12:09 pm

Paul – I consider the sand castle un-ruffled. I think I may be doing a poor job of explaining metered content. One of the big advantages it has over a micropayment system is that it allows papers to compete with free news outlets.

For most sites and most people, yes, browsing habits would probably end up limited to 25 (or whatever the allotment is) per month. But that’s not the target market.

The idea is similar to Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans concept, where a minority of readers who enjoy a particular set of columnists or a particular set of blogs, videos, podcasts, or whatever, will subsidize the “free” offerings to the rest of the world by paying a monthly or yearly fee that makes the print subscription fee look like extortion.

Most people don’t actually spend that much time on any one particular news site. This model allows newsbrands to take advantage of those extra eyeballs for ad sales, while still providing a chance to develop actual customers who can support the news operation.

4 Paul Balcerak 02.09.09 at 12:24 pm

I suppose I glazed over that point, which is my mistake. I agree — that’s a good idea and a good model. I still think a little something extra thrown in there wouldn’t hurt. For example, if I sign up for $5 a month or whatever, I get to access the entire historical archive of a columnist of my choice (or something like that).

It would be valuable, too (to me, at least) if media conglomerates could offer some kind of package deal — like give me the option of getting unlimited Seattle P-I content for $5 a month, or giving me unlimited access to all Hearst content for $10 a month. (Or whatever because that’s insane and I’d never pay that. I’m really just throwing out X’s and O’s here.)

5 Kathy 02.09.09 at 12:43 pm

Hi, Jason:

There is one fatal flaw in your description of the pre-web newspaper/newsbrand business model. That business model was built almost exclusively on advertising, not subscription services. That’s because newspapers have not charged subscribers or newsstand-purchasers the full cost of a paper since … well, not in my memory! And for TV news, it’s _always_ been advertiser supported — think back to Murrow. (Note: I do not know how much of CNN’s revenue comes from the cable/satellite companies — the effective “subscribers”.)

Where newspapers truly lost their cash cow was in the classified space, one that is uniquely suited for the online environment, IMO. Was that a lack of foresight? Maybe. Dunno, I wasn’t thinking about the news space then. :-)

I totally agree with you on the micropayment challenges (free-loader being a major one). I’d like to hear more about how Salon’s subscribe-to-skip ads model is working, however, before totally abandoning pay-to-read models.

Finally, there is little incentive for readers to pay money to mid-size papers like the PI and the Seattle Times. Too much of their content comes from wire services (one of my friends, an avid supporter of media, ditched the S.T. because she already got the Sunday NYT) and too little actually impacts the lives of real people who live in metro Seattle. I still sub to the S.Times, but I like the feel of a paper in my hands. Still, I’m thinking of ditching it for the Sunday NYT, too. I can read The Economist or a book on the bus — or even my cellphone.

Relevance. Relevance — whether today or in a week — is what people pay for. That’s your iPod music example (note that they are DRM free purchases these days). That’s why The Economist and The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal will still be here when general public papers are gone. I hate to think of a world where the only “relevance” that other people are willing to pay for centers around celebrity/entertainment, but that feels like the world we are living in. :-/

6 Jason Preston 02.09.09 at 1:07 pm

dw – you’re right that news can come from anywhere, and aside from a certain amount of authority, it’s largely the same. But let’s face reality – micropayments are impossible from a practical standpoint, and newspapers will go out of business without a new revenue source. It’s time for these brands to try something new, like, promoting themselves and their business.

As long as you brought up groceries, let’s give the analogy a whirl. Yes, I can get lettuce at either Albertsons or Whole Foods. Since I’m in Seattle I could also be a real snob and shop at PCC.

But the lettuce at Albertsons is cheaper, so why do people shop at PCC?

Because PCC isn’t selling lettuce, it’s selling an experience, which is precisely what metered content is about. It gives newspapers:

1) a product to sell again, and
2) a way to differentiate their brands

I think it will work, because the same way that ESPN Insider information is worth money to you, so the prestige of the NYT will be worth money to others.

Kathy – yes, the majority of pre-web cash was probably from classifieds. Subscription fees have largely been a cash-flow checking tool than a real moneymaker, but that flips completely when the cost of distribution runs down to practically zero (see “Internet”).

I also don’t know why papers couldn’t figure out how well classifieds and the ‘net played together, but that’s a moot point here.

Relevance is only half the problem. I think that if a medium size paper like the Times or the P-I decided to run with a metered content idea and they actually bothered to hire some people to market the product, they’d find some success with the system.

Basically, I think that the newsreading market includes is at least 10% full of people who will buy a subscription to on online paper not just because they want to read more articles than they’re allowed to read, but because they self-identify with the news brand, they want to support it, and they enjoy the status of being a subscriber (or a “member”). The extra content is really a mental justification for them to reach for their wallet and satisfy the other desires.

Also, I’ve thought for a long time that syndication is an utterly worthless idea online. Why pay to reprint something that is merely a link away, and for free?

Local news outlets no longer need to cover national content, and they shouldn’t.

7 Paul Balcerak 02.09.09 at 1:15 pm

Jason – The only problem is, not as many people care about news as they do about stocks or sports (reason being that people make money off stocks and sports). But you’re right — make someone feel like they’re part of an exclusive club or that they’re getting some kind of premium product and they’ll pay for anything, even if it’s free (i.e. bottled water).

Also, I agree with you on AP/national news. The only reason it’s still around is to fill “holes” in the print edition that are there because the brand doesn’t have enough people to produce that much local content (or so they say).

8 dw 02.09.09 at 2:04 pm

If you just need lettuce and you need it right now, are you going to truck all the way to PCC, or are you going to head for the corner market? What about eggs? Or sugar?

See, that’s the problem. Most of us don’t read the NYT for spot news. We read what’s available to us — TV, Google, local news site, whatever. We read the NYT for insight and opinion. If we just want to know about the plane crash, there’s the AP. If we want to know how Bush’s failed policies brought that plane down, there’s the NYT.

Creating “premium brand news” requires that people are going to be willing to choose “premium brand news” day in, day out. Which means you need to create a news brand that’s all about lifestyle, or political belief, or religious affiliation. The problem is, that’s not American news. That’s European news. That’s the liberal wankers who read the Guardian vs. the upper-class-and-proud-of-it twits who read the Telegraph.

And it comes back to something that you and I (and Monica) have argued over before — the nature of bias. I’m OK with a European format because the biases are clear and self-evident. But that idea seems anathema to American journalism.

But even if this is the direction we’re all heading in, someone is still going to find a way to offer news for free. And the fungible nature of news will keep on being a problem.

9 Jason Preston 02.09.09 at 2:22 pm

dw – while you’re 100% correct about almost everything you just said, I think it’s largely irrelevant to the metered content business model. Here’s why:

Buying in to one brand does not preclude reading another.

The object is not to change people’s reading habits, but to appeal to the idea of being a newsbrand customer, whichever brand that may be.

Of course, like I said, I could be completely wrong. It may be that nobody signs up for premium membership. But I think it’s well worth trying.

10 dw 02.09.09 at 2:44 pm

Buying into one brand DOES preclude reading another. It’s the sunk cost fallacy — people will spend out their credits because they paid for them and now they have to use them. It does change habits. It alters the flow of information in unexpected ways, too. Imagine if the P-I were to offer some special deal to local bloggers to help them sell their metering packages. Suddenly you have bloggers pulling P-I content to the detriment of other news sources, even if those other news sources end up ultimately being more credible.

And you end up with the same cloisters we already see in other areas. Hello cross-marketing.

Is it worth trying? Perhaps. But you have to give a really compelling reason to join. And right now, I see no compelling reason to. I’m not getting what I couldn’t piece together myself between blogs and Google News.

Now, give me a way to use an Amazon-level algorithm to help me filter all the news by what I like and what I’ve read… then we’ll talk.

11 Jason Preston 02.09.09 at 2:56 pm

dw – RE: sunk cost – it applies more to something like prepaid minutes than it does to a subscription-like model. Zillions of netflix users let DVDs languish all the time…

RE: compelling reason to join – you’re not the target market ;)

12 Aaric Eisenstein 02.09.09 at 7:47 pm

At Stratfor, we have a very simple model: Pay us for the quality work we do. We’re 100% supported by membership fees, with no advertising at all. At the same time that free sites are dying, we’re at all time highs for both readers and revenues. What we provide isn’t a commodity, and people are perfectly willing to pay substantial sums (we’re $349/year for individuals) to get the very best forecasting and analysis of global events.

The pay-for-content model absolutely works. You simply have to offer a product that is worth paying for, that isn’t essentially identical to what dozens of other providers are making, and that isn’t cannibalized by your own free delivery via a different platform.

13 Mike 02.09.09 at 8:19 pm

There’s another big downfall to micro-payments (on top of the obvious limitations mentioned), you really don’t know what you are buying. With a song from iTunes, odds are you know exactly what you are buying because you heard it before. It’s hard to do that here.

Couple things to think about related to the metered content idea. To do it properly, you need to require registration for everything. This immediately kills half, if not more, of your traffic (not including issues you’d run into with search engines not being able to get to your stuff possibly). So now you also have to make up the money you were making on advertising to those who hadn’t hit their limit yet. The alternative to registration is a cookie-based system where people just clear their cookies and get 25 more views.

Market competition is also going to make this really difficult. If the P-I, for example, tries this, people are just going to go to the Times or KING or KOMO when they hit their 25 page view limit (and many people will just say “screw it” because they don’t want to be bothered). Add to that the neighborhood blogs that are springing up.

As odd as this sounds, the only way charging may ever happen is if a bunch of news sources go out of business and bloggers end up in a position where they can’t make enough to do it.

14 Steve Roth 02.10.09 at 5:23 pm

Did you see Kinsley’s column in the NYT today?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/opinion/10kinsley.html?ref=opinion

If all million print subscribers paid them $2 a month, they get $24 million a year.

Their ad revenues last year (print plus digital, but mostly print) were $1 billion dollars.

Here are two wacky ideas:

1. Form a consortium like porn sites and cable companies do: pay one fee, get access to all the sites. The key in this would be, don’t pay, get *none* of the sites. Do you think such an association between the NYT, WSJ, CSM, WP, IHT, LAT, BG, and a few others would raise Sherman antitrust eyebrows? I don’t know the law well enough to know.

2. Charge bloggers to link to or quote you. (Metered: ten or twenty five year, gratis.)

That would raise some eyebrows…

15 Peter Nelson 08.04.09 at 10:21 am

How do you actually IMPLEMENT metered content? The whole concept of metered content is based on the idea that they can consistently recognize “me” over multiple accesses of their content. Cookies and Flash-persistent objects won’t help with that because, like most privacy-conscious web surfers, mine are automatically deleted or scrambled regularly. IP addresses won’t work because most users today are using DHCP either from their IT department or ISP, which means their IP address changes frequently (and it can be forced to change at will by any users who wants to cover his tracks). Other browser-specific content can be reset at will as well.

On the other hand, if you force people to register and then log in every time they want to read an article that’s a big hassle that would turn away lots of readers.

I think newspapers were a wonderful phenomenon which grew out of some unique historical circumstances of the 19th and 20th centuries and there’s nothing like them which can survive in the 21st century. This is very sad because local and small daily newspapers were the only ones covering city hall in small and medium communities. That kind of reporting (town zoning commission, or who got the snow-plowing contract for next winter) does not attract enough readers to monetize, but without it we’re going to have a golden age of small town government corruption.

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