It’s time to charge money

by Jason Preston on January 15, 2009

Have you seen these New York Times slideshows? They’re silky smooth, technical wonders of multimedia interactivity and journalism. We’re moving way beyond the basics of text and pictures and really starting to take advantage of the capabilities of the internet as an entirely new news medium.

And you know what?

I shouldn’t be able to experience that for free. New, amazing technologies and presentation and graphics and whizzits and whatsits and mobile audio this and that—they should all be provided as services to a paying audience.

It’s no big deal to offer the plain text free (or you could meter it). That was one of the big problems with TimeSelect – you were paying for text and pictures! That’s nothing special, and certainly nothing you couldn’t get plenty of other places on the internet.

Now we’re talking about a cool, innovative, interactive news product that you can’t just find lying around the web.

And before I hear anyone say “but we’ve tried charging money before and it doesn’t work,” I have three points for you:

  1. Times change. Sometimes the market is ready and sometimes it’s not.
  2. You have a new product to charge for.
  3. Nobody thought you could charge for Television when it first came out, either.

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{ 4 trackbacks }

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{ 6 comments }

1 Robert 01.15.09 at 12:52 pm

Something being new, cool, and interactive was never enough. What is the value? Just because its high tech doesnt mean the fundamentals of marketing a product have changed. the 4pps of marketing have not been replaced with “its digital, so pay money”

2 Jason Preston 01.15.09 at 12:58 pm

Robert – you’re right that “flashy” doesn’t necessarily equal “money,” but I think that the biggest hurdle in charging people for news online is that they’re used to a certain kind of news being free.

You want a better user interface? You want high definition audio and video? You want special, mobile-interface productions? Those things take time, effort, and money to produce. They’re the cable channels of internet news.

If you redefine the product, then you have a chance to sell it. I’m worried that the NYT is leading the path to offering HBO to everyone for free, a their own expense.

3 Allan McDougall 01.15.09 at 6:07 pm

The keyword is interface. That’s just stunning. I think interactive content like that is the way of the future, especially in the fields of journalism and e-learning.

Thanks for sharing,

4 Paul Balcerak 01.16.09 at 12:17 am

OK — this right here is the kind of thing I was talking about a few posts ago when I said I thought the only kind of content newspapers could charge for would be “entertainment”-type stuff.

I looked at these slide shows, too, the other day and thought they were awesome. If the NYT would’ve just offered one and then said, “Want to watch more? Just PayPal us $0.50 per,” I’d totally do it. (Note: If it were some NYT-based pay system where I had to create a new username/account and re-submit information that I’d already left elsewhere a million times, I’d probably be less likely to do it. Hence the PayPal reference.)

5 TD Hedengren 01.16.09 at 8:57 am

While you could be right regarding if people would pay for it or not, I think your thesis falls on the fact that this is new and sleek right now. Yes, it looks good, but it’s not all that hard to duplicate. The experience, technically as well as design-wise, isn’t worth paying for. The content, on the other hand, might be, and it benefits from a nice presentation of course.

6 Rikin 01.19.09 at 9:36 am

Spot on Jason! They (NYTimes) kill it when it comes to interactive maps. Check out the piece on the Hudson plane crash. (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/01/15/nyregion/20090115-plane-crash-970.html)

But I think the logic of who the value is deferred to is a little flawed. Why should it be the viewers of the content that should pay for the inherent value in the product? Shouldn’t, or at least couldn’t, it be the marketers and advertisers who WANT to be next to engaging content with eyeballs on it? I mean lets face it, even the newspaper industry is supported by advertisers more than they are by paying subscribers. That’s why the freebie daily papers exist.

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