Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Conclusion

This posting will be short and sweet. The basis of my conclusion comes from the information I got from the experts I interviewed (thanks again) and my own research.

I think large media market newspapers can and should charge for their websites but the sites need to be worth the money to the consumer. Papers that are just posting stories need to embrace video, audio, chats, photo galleries and other interactive tools for the readers -- basically all the bells and whistles). You want to keep the audience on your site so that the page views increase, therefore building up a better chance to get an increase in advertising revenue. The best models for interactive newspaper websites are The New York Times and The Washington Post.

In addition, to complement the websites, each paper should continue production of the print edition (drastically reduced), perform an evaluation of the pros and cons of home delivery, and print a watered down 10 to 16 page tabloid style daily edition geared towards subway and bus commuters. The charge, if any, should be under a dollar. The Washington Post has a publication, which is free, that follows this model called The Express. These mini-papers would also a good tool to drive readers to the paper's websites.

Medium and small media market newspapers need to consider printing a weekend edition for delivery and online only during the week for subscribers. The weekend editions should focus on extensive projects, a weekly roundup, and community reporting.

If I have to subscribe for content, I would want it to be something similar to a cable television contract. There would be a basic (1-3 websites of my choice), premium (4-6 websites), and platinum (10 or more websites) choices. The idea came to me on a couple of levels. First, because I have an app on my iPhone called News Addict, which has 42 major news websites (there are two similar apps -- Newspapers and NewsPools for fellow iPhone users). And second (and more importantly), from a "passport plan" suggestion from Jeff South's interview for this blog. Actually, I should give Jeff most of the credit, I just basically tweaked his passport plan.

Although I get 95 percent of my news from the Internet, I hope newspapers never die and I honestly don't think that they will -- I think a better word for what will happen in the coming years to print media is evolution.


Side note from the author:
I did state in my first posting that I am not a fan of blogs but this experience has enlightened me. While I do still feel like blogs need to have accountability, rather than being a diary entry, I enjoyed researching and finding interviews for this. During my holiday break, I am going to come up with a new format and subject matter to continue this blog. Thanks to everyone who read this blog and comeback soon.
Robb Crocker 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Let the Debate Begin Part III

While doing my research for this blog, I once again stumbled upon a great story about pay for content on the Nieman Journalism Lab called, "Paying for online news: Sorry, but the math just doesn’t work," which was published in April of 2009. I touched base with the writer, Martin Langeveld, and he sent me back this message:

"There's been a lot of water over the dam since that post and as you probably know many others have explored the model. Somebody (also posted at Nieman) came up with a calculator that let you play with all the variables, using NYT (The New York Times) as a model — how many free pages before you have to pay, how much, the ad revenue variables etc. — and there was no way to make the thing break even. But I've come around to accept the fact that many papers/news sites are going to try this, and that some will make it work for themselves (niche sites, or specialized content on mainstream sites, or some sophisticated way of weaning users off free onto paid.) Also, iPad changes the game; most players will be offering paid subscriptions through apps, and not making the same "mistake" they perceived they made on the Web. Finally, the AP's announced clearinghouse model has great promise if done right to break open the closed models of websites and apps and to let content, free or paid, find its own audiences with defined channels for content creators/owners to get paid for it."

Considering the fact that Langeveld's stance has altered, I was able to do a Q&A with him. I found his answers to be very enlightening. You may have seen the same questions before. The method to that madness is that I want my experts to have similar questions in order to make a strong conclusion at the end of this process. And with out further adieu...

Q. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of charging readers for online news?

A. On the pro side: it helps put in the minds of readers the idea that this content has some value; that there is a cost to producing it. And of course, in theory it creates a revenue stream for the publisher. Against this, on the con side, are these arguments:

(a)  Before online distribution, news in most media was free: radio, TV, and even newspapers — the subscription price or newsstand cost of a newspaper is really a convenience fee readers were willing to pay for their own personal copy. Historically, at least until the 1980s, it was a kind of freemium model: you were likely to find a newspaper to read sometime in the course of your day: at the barbershop, on a bus, in a waiting room, at the lunch counter, etc., and the pass-along readership factor was quite high. So if the prior news media never established value and a willingness of consumers to pay for news as distinct from convenience, then doing so for online news will be very difficult.
(b)  Except for a handful of publications with high-value content, like WSJ (The Wall Street Journal), FT (Financial Times), possibly NYT and various more topical niche publishers, it will be very difficult to implement a paid model in which the loss of ad revenue from lower page views is offset by the subscription income. Small local publications will simply not be able to implement pay systems by looking at the models that work for the high-value and niche publishers. 
(c)  Content has become atomized. The typical reader assembles a stream of online news not from a single source but from multiple sources, and will be unwilling to return to a single-source model.  

Q. Did newspapers wait too long to try to charge?

A. Newspapers waited too long to innovate, and now they are turning to pay models not strategically but in desperation. Most newspapers got on the web early on, but they assumed that the Web was an extension of print, that the business model would be the same as print. They sold online ads as "value added" benefits for print advertisers, rather than understanding Web advertising and helping their customers maximize results from online ads. While most large companies in the 90s began to reinvent themselves as digital enterprises, newspapers continued, to this day, to operate print-centered businesses. If you don't believe this, go to any newspaper and probe employees about their jobs — you'll find that the central organizing element in 90 percent of the jobs is the moment the press starts: advertising, newsroom and prepress work toward it; press room, mail room, distribution, circulation and the business office pick it up from there. The Web is a sideline, an afterthought, no matter what some of the slogans may be. In a truly digital news enterprise, most jobs would focus on digital publishing; print would be a niche product; and production, printing and distribution would be outsourced.

The real question is not whether newspapers should charge or not, or whether they waited too long. Even if they had charged from the beginning they would have failed, because they would not have made that fundamental shift to digital enterprises. If huge new Web-based businesses like Ebay, Amazon, Google, Yahoo and Facebook could arise without charging for any content, while newspapers got at best a toehold online, then the fault is not in whether they charged their readers or not; the fault is in their fundamental strategy.   
  
Q. How's charging going to stop sites like the Drudge Report from subscribing, cutting and pasting news articles? Do you see that as potentially creating copyright issues?

A. Well, if they subscribed and then cut and pasted, with current protocols that would be a copyright issue. The content owners would sue the pants off Drudge et al, and they would win. What publishers are complaining about is snippet aggregation, but they also know that it drives traffic back to their own sites. And they claim that they lose money from the more unscrupulous, generally offshore operators who cut and paste whole articles and try to make money on Google ads and the like — but in reality, that revenue leak is probably less than one percent of all newspaper revenue. 

If newspapers started thinking strategically they would realize that the whole nature of the Web is to cut, paste, share and link, and that they will never make money online if they focus on confining content to their own sites and syndication channels. As I proposed at NiemanLab in July, what they should really do is find a way to go with the flow, leverage the way the Web works, and allow their content to travel the Web in search of readers, with a rights and payments clearinghouse to channel revenue back to them. The Associated Press, in October, announced their intent to create just such a clearinghouse, which I believe will fundamentally change the way news content is created, distributed and consumed and enables a large new set of business opportunities around it, as outlined in this second NiemanLab post on the topic.

Q. Will charging for online content bring people back to print editions or push them to news sites such as CNN, Fox, and other network news sites? Or will charging create a domino effect, where those sites will begin to charge?

A. Charging for news on the publishers' proprietary channels like Web sites and mobile apps will limit the audience for their news, and hence limit the revenue opportunity. It will certainly not push CNN et al into charging for news, because it will demonstrably fail to create big new revenue streams. Without the shift to an open clearinghouse system, paid models will have very limited success for the reasons outlined above. But with the rights and payments clearinghouse, a local publisher's content might find a much wider audience on other news sites, niche sites (like Drudge) and even on CNN, Fox and the like, with revenue channeled back to the originating publisher. That publisher, themselves, can do the same thing: aggregate content from many sources, deliver it on a variety of platforms to their local audience, and share in the ensuing revenue growth. 

Q. Will a change like this signal the near end of print media or will charging online fail disastrously?

A. Charging will have little impact on the sustainability of print. US newspapers have already lost about half their total revenue over the last five years; they are still losing revenue year-over-year in each succeeding calendar quarter, and very little of that will ever come back, because no retailer, brand marketer or advertising agency is trying to figure out how to spend more money in print. They all want to connect with consumers digitally, because that's where consumers are shifting their attention more and more (with a significant age skew, but even baby boomers are buying iPads and reading more and more of their news online). Print publishers may think that they can stabilize things and survive on a lower profit margin, but (a) they have no cushion left against the next recession, (b) those demographic trends will continue inexorably, (c) the impact of iPad and other tablets and ereaders on reading habits is just beginning, and (d) newspaper circulation continues to fall at five or six percent year over year, as well (which is much faster than it ever was until five years ago. So clearly, at some point there's a tipping point, where daily print is no longer sustainable — you might see publishers switching to weekly or twice-weekly, and perhaps that's sustained for another 5-10 years in most markets on the strength of preprinted advertising. But even that still-lucrative revenue stream will dry up as marketers find ways to deliver those promotions digitally.

The premise of your questions seems to be that charging is the hail-Mary do-or-die option facing publishers right now. But in reality, the do-or-die choice is to follow their audience to the digital side, to figure out how to connect with them and stay connected, and make their money by facilitating transactions. Essentially, that's what newspapers always did: retailers had to reach out to customers, customers had to show up at stores to buy things, and newspaper advertising made that connection. Now, the transaction can happen anywhere, anytime. So it's no longer a question of presenting a two-dimensional advertising message to move a customer to a store — it's about connecting a customer with a retailer and moving the merchandise (or services) to the customer. Ebay and Amazon do that very well. Newspapers could figure out how to do it, but I'm afraid very few of them have the requisite capacity for innovation, change, and entrepreneurship — let alone the financial resources to make it possible.


Martin Langeveld's blogging output is most easily accessed via his own blog, News After Newspapers

Next time: The conclusion...


Saturday, November 6, 2010

In Case You Missed It Part II...

More news and notes for this week's offering.
  
An article last week in the SFGate reported last week that US newspaper circulation is down. This news is no surprise to me but while articles like this seem always to point the finger at the usual suspects, this one brought up the Great Recession as a factor. I'm sure that there have been others articles to connect the dots to the recession as a factor, but this is the first that I have seen.

I thought I'd depress myself by Googling newspaper layoffs in 2010 and found out that nearly 2,500 writers have received a pink slip or a buyout. Every reason that was stated in the SFGate article are the same reasons journalists are in the unemployment line. I wish universities would suspend journalism programs for the next five to ten years so that the market isn't flooded with writers willing to work for less than $20,000 a year.


Americans don't trust the media according to this Gallop Poll. Roughly 75 percent of those polled don't have confidence in newspapers and television news. Why is this relevant to this blog? If you don't trust the media, why would you buy a newspaper or an online subscription. I might just be throwing that against the wall to see if it sticks (and some readers may consider it a big stretch), but it made me think and it might be food for thought for media outlets to chew on.

OK, this article just knocked me out of my chair. while grasping at straws during my research this week, I Goggled, paying for blogs and I came up with this insane story. Apparently, if "you use Google AdSense or other ad services on your personal blog or website" as this article explains, the city of Philadelphia (where I currently reside -- not by choice) wants a piece of the action if you are make money. $50 a year or $300 for a lifetime tax to be exact -- so will my three followers please put their check books away. The city is calling it a  business privilege license. I'm actually going to sensor myself for what I want to call it. It is almost something you would see in the Godfather. Two hoods that work for the city show up at your house and make an offer you can't refuse. If you don't pay up, they start by pulling out letters and the keyboard. Eventually, your computer gets rubbed out. Make sure you read the comments after the article -- although I have not enjoyed my stay in Philly, I do love the all too common cynics that reside in the City of Brotherly Love.

With the decline of print newspapers and magazines, it only makes sense that news stands are shuttering across the U.S. This article offers six reasons for the decline, while this posting reports how Philadelphia's news stands are staying in business -- that info is in the fifth paragraph of the post, which follows a report about a  disturbing incident involving some moron tossing acid on a news stand worker as she was setting up her stand. Like I mentioned before, City of Brotherly Love (can't wait for all the hate mail I'm going to get if my comments are found online).


Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Case You Missed It...

For this week's entry, I decided to take a break from the expert interviews since I have collected some great research I have done about our favorite subject -- to pay or not to pay for content.

First is a series of articles from a website I stumbled upon called paidContent.org, The economics of Digital Content. The first offering concerns the top 25 newspaper online subscriptions in the first half of 2010. According to the article the criteria was "the total number of subscribers to their e-editions, a broad category that includes digital replicas, online-only subscriptions, Kindle subscriptions, and products like Times Reader." 

It was no surprise to me that the Wall Street Journal (1) and the New York Times (3) were in the top five. What did shock me was that two Detroit newspapers, the Detroit Free Press (2) and the Detroit News (5) joined the WSJ and the NYT in the top five. This New York Times article explains that the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News scaled back home delivery in 2009 from everyday to Thursdays and Fridays for both papers and Sundays for the Free Press. This was a real head scratcher to me at first until I ran across this report from the American Journalism Review. The move by both papers is actually brilliant. While other newspapers slashed costs by cutting jobs, these two papers, which are produced in a city that overall is struggling economically, found a better solution. The following quote from the report explains the rationale:

"It was really a matter of survival first and growth second," says Paul Anger, publisher and editor of the Free Press. "We were determined to find an economic model that didn't mean the death of us as a business by a thousand cuts, or the death of our newsrooms by a thousand cuts."

If more papers followed this model, there might not be as many out of work journalists.

I also found a list of local and metro papers that charge for online content (or paywalls) on paidContent.org that was published in April of this year. Only four of the 26 papers had a significant number of subscribers. A smart man would deduce from this data that paywalls might not be the way to go -- I'll have to find a smart man and ask him (or her).

The last paidContent.org offering I will throw out there is a case study of four online news sites that are adding print editions to complement their websites. According to the article, the driving force behind this process is creating additional advertising dollars. Three of the four websites report a specific subject matter (like the Wall Street Journal), so it makes complete sense to me that this model could work.

Bloggers beware -- The Las Vegas Review-Journal is suing multiple websites for using its content in blogs and as stories for specific websites such as National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and madjacksports.com. Luckily for me, I did not find this article on the Review-Journal's website.

Lastly, I'd like to bring attention to the Gannett Blog's entry about their former Chief Digital Officer, Chris Sardakis, who stepped down from his post this past spring. After assuredly cleaning his desk, boxing up his belongings and being given a sendoff party by his staff, Sardakis fired off a 1,700 word letter to his employees with some strong opinions about paid content/paywall plan. Here's one of his statements from the letter:

"I do not believe a paid content/pay wall strategy will work for newspaper companies. I think the industry is going about it all wrong. If everyone decides to charge for content that a consumer will need to pay for based on usage, then every newspaper company will have learn how to market like a consumer packaged goods company overnight. They will have to build consumer experiences at the same level that Apple, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble do every day. When you ask for a share of the consumers’ wallet, the individual will not measure their return by how many pieces of content they read, but by the value that they received in greater knowledge and that value can be quantified by how many of those consumers become your best promoters. Limiting access to content through pay walls minimizes the chances a consumer has in promoting your product. It will also limit your total audience."

The more I research to pay or not to pay for content, the more I realize that this debate is going to continue for a long time and that there may not really be a right answer, just a right situation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Story of StarText: An Online Newspaper Pioneer


The year was 1982 – – The San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana threw a touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the NFC Championship to defeat the much hated Dallas Cowboys, that will forever be known as THE CATCH; Head Line News (HLN), part of the Cable News Network (CNN) began broadcasting; The Washington Star, the Nation Capital's newspaper of record, ceased publication after 130 years; the nighttime television drama Dallas, ruled the airwaves, Michael Jackson’s Thriller takes over the radio and MTV; ABBA quietly rides off into the sunset (guys rejoice, girls buy more ABBA paraphernalia); Andy Kaufman and professional wrestler Jerry Lawler had a stage fracas on Late Night with David Letterman; Mary Hart's legs join the Entertainment Tonight team (a role she still holds today);Ronald Reagan ruled the White House; and the Cold War was still, well cold.

I was in elementary school and my favorite cartoon was Fat Albert and the Cosby kids. I also had dreams of being a member of the A-Team or playing professional football for the Washington Redskins – – or both (I was quite the multi-tasker at that age).

Meanwhile, the folks over at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram were also dreaming big. Only their dreams would come to fruition.

In the fall of 1981, three editors of Star-Telegram, put their heads together and ventured out to tap into an unknown media source that we now take for granted. In the same year, rival The Dallas Morning News' also jumped into the uncharted waters of online new service. Their adventure would failed within a year due to lack of business. Meanwhile, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram team (who I have dubbed the Godfathers of online newspaper media), which consisted of Tom Steinert-Threlkeld (the director of news technology for Capital Cites), Joe Donth (the Star-Telegram's director of data processing), and Gerry Barker (StarText Interact Manager), set the goal to successful launch and consistently maintain an online (I use the term online loosely in this context due to a lack of better terminology) news presence.

Using content from the paper, StarText launched on May 3, 1982, with the help of the Tandy Corp. which provided the software and computers.

"It became solely operated by the Star-Telegram the next year. Over the course of the next 15 years StarText was the first local online service in the nation to achieve profitability (officially noted in 1986), as well one of the first to recognize the value of keyword vs. menu navigation," said Barker, in a recent e-mail interview with this writer, "Subscribers paid $9.95 a month to use it.

"StarText was remarkable in many ways, beginning with the fact it survived beyond its first six months, propelled along by a stubborn belief that online held the key to newspapers’ future," Barker added. "For much of its time, it was run by a dedicated staff of six or less, an entrepreneurial company within a company (Capital Cities-ABC). Decisions were made on intuition and instinct; we were truly going where no newspaper had gone before. It was deeply exhilarating and challenging all at the same time."

Customers purchasing StarText were able to receive updated Star-Telegram content, state nation and world news, sports, business, and entertainment news reports from 5 A.M. to midnight, the catch was that had to have a Tandy Model I, Model III, or the new Tandy Vidtex terminal, something they developed exclusively for their videotex product, according to information Barker provided.

"Unlike today, the first version of StarText wasn't truly an "online" system," Barker wrote on a website dedicated to the history of StarText. "You called the host computer (at 300 baud), entered up to four requests, the host computer delivered the information, then hung up. If you wanted more, you had to call back."

StarText had with some considered a successful run, even with the creation of the World Wide Web, which introduced numerous online newspaper sites (most of which were not charging a subscription price). But eventually, the StarText service became a victim of the growing Internet, ending production on March 3, 1997. Of course the paper relaunched a new online service, but most should consider the Star-Telegram's StarText program to be a pioneer of online new service.

"StarText peaked at close to 5,000 customers, attaining more subscribers than well-funded national efforts like Viewtron, which reportedly spent between $50 and $100 million trying to find an online audience. Still, the revenue we generated was hardly more than a rounding error by newspaper standards," Barker said in an email interview, "Then along came the World Wide Web and changed everything. StarText made the leap, but found itself one site among many. We still had cache with our core group of loyal “StarTexans,” but the local sense of community that fueled our growth didn’t translate to the Web in the same way.

"At the end of the day, you can make the case StarText was simply ahead of its time. Still, I think we got one thing right: Online turned out to be a pretty big deal for newspapers, don’t you think?"

When asked about the pros and cons of subscription fees, Barker appears to be straddling the fence, which is not an insult. I, myself seem to hold that same position.

"The “pro” is you create badly-needed revenue. The “con” is lose readership to your free competition. This without a doubt will be a hot topic for business school case studies," Barker explained. "As many industry pundits have said, “Genie is out of the bottle and we can’t put him back.” While we don’t know the eventual outcome, I think you can make a case that over time, high quality content, delivered in the form consumers want it, when they want it, will find its niche and reflect its true value -- the same way free newspapers live alongside paid ones, and have for a long time.

"Well, StarText charged from day one, back in 1982, so it wasn’t for lack of trying," Barker added. "But as the Internet took hold , we all fell in line with the notion content on the Web is expected to be free, supported by ads (and those better not be too invasive, by the way).

"Once you start down that road, there is almost no turning back. But keep in mind the World Wide Web as a commercial enterprise is less than 20 years old. Newspapers still have time to figure out their electronic businesses, which now include a new audience comprised of millions of tablet devices that were scarcely a blip on the radar not even a year ago. In our fast-changing media landscape, the next million dollar idea could be right around the corner."

When asked about today's ideal online newspaper service, Barker said, "the newspaper site that gets the most credit for cutting edge is probably Lawrence, Kansas." He adds that new platform wise, such as video, mobile, and multimedia, the New York Times appears to be also on the cutting edge, "both in content and advertising."

About Gerry Barker: 

A journalist who took the plunge into New Media circa 1981. Former rock music writer. Founding member of StarText, one of the first and most successful local online newspaper ventures.

Graduate of UT-Arlington. Ran web sites for Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Morning News, Belo Interactive, Columbus Dispatch, Florida Publishing Group (TBO.com) and most recently, The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fl.  

More information about Gerry Barker and StarText is available at:


The Interview Text: 
1. Please give me a summary of the StarText project, detailing with what went right and what went wrong and how it may compare to Internet newspapers now?
Barker:  
StarText was an online information service provided by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, one of the first of its kind in the country.  It launched on May 3, 1982, as a joint venture between the Star-Telegram and the Tandy Corp., whose interest was marketing the software and selling computers.  It became solely operated by the S-T the next year. Over the course of the next 15 years StarText was the first local online service in the nation to achieve profitability (officially noted in 1986), as well one of the first to recognize the value of keyword vs. menu navigation. Subscribers paid $9.95 a month to use it.
StarText  was remarkable in many ways, beginning with the fact it survived beyond its first six months, propelled along by a stubborn belief that online held the key to newspapers’ future. For much of its time, it was run by a dedicated staff of six or less, an entrepreneurial company within a company (Capital Cities-ABC). Decisions were made on intuition and instinct; we were truly going where no newspaper had gone before. It was deeply exhilarating and challenging all at the same time.
StarText peaked at close to 5,000 customers, attaining more subscribers than well-funded national efforts like Viewtron, which reportedly spent between $50 and $100 million trying to find an online audience. Still, the revenue we generated was hardly more than a rounding error by newspaper standards. Then along came the World Wide Web and changed everything. StarText made the leap, but found itself one site among many. We still had cache with our core group of loyal “StarTexans,” but the local sense of community that fueled our growth didn’t translate to the Web in the same way.
 At the end of the day, you can make the case StarText was simply ahead of its time. Still, I think we got one thing right: Online turned out to be a pretty big deal for newspapers, don’t you think?
2. You have an impressive lists of places you have run Websites for. Which was the biggest challenge and which operation made you say "Wow, these people really have something special?"
Barker: 
Each had its own special challenges and rewards. In terms of which one was the biggest challenge, I would say the Columbus Dispatch. The challenge was turning an operation around quickly and then moving it forward across multiple platforms, both print and broadcast. We ended up over-delivering on all fronts in a relatively short time, which was very satisfying. Which one had the biggest “wow” factor? Belo, and the spinoff of Belo Interactive, was an exciting time to be running their flagship property, The Dallas Morning News. And my current employer, Cox, is doing some “wow” things as well.

3. What are your thoughts on how the online media game has evolved since 1982?
Barker: 
If you have ever had the experience of being online at 300 baud, you know where we are today is “light years” from there. Seriously, the underlying technology has leapfrogged ahead at a geometric pace. Now we are doing things on hand-held mobile devices we couldn’t conceive of when StarText made its debut. Who would have thought you would have 500 million people in a “social network?” Tablet computers were talked about in the Eighties at Knight-Ridder; now they are predicting 45 million iPads sold worldwide next year. Timing is everything.

4. Which newspaper websites do you consider to be cutting edge?
Barker: 
In terms of pure experimentation, the newspaper site that gets the most credit for cutting edge is probably Lawrence, Kansas.  For doing the most with the new platforms, many would point to the New York Times. In general, there’s probably more good work going on around our industry than ever before – video. mobile, multi-media – both in content and advertising.

5. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of charging readers for online news?
Barker: 
That’s easy. The “pro” is you create badly-needed revenue. The “con” is lose readership to your free competition. This without a doubt will be a hot topic for business school case studies. As many industry pundits have said, “Genie is out of the bottle and we can’t put him back.” While we don’t know the eventual outcome, I think you can make a case that over time, high quality content, delivered in the form consumers want it, when they want it, will find its niche and reflect its true value -- the same way free newspapers live alongside paid ones, and have for a long time.
6. Did newspapers wait too long to try to charge?
Barker: 
Well, StarText charged from day one, back in 1982, so it wasn’t for lack of trying. J But as the Internet took hold , we all fell in line with the notion content on the Web is expected to be free, supported by ads (and those better not be too invasive, by the way). Once you start down that road, there is almost no turning back. But keep in mind the World Wide Web as a commercial enterprise is less than 20 years old. Newspapers still have time to figure out their electronic businesses, which now include a new audience comprised of millions of tablet devices that were scarcely a blip on the radar not even a year ago. In our fast-changing media landscape, the next million dollar idea could be right around the corner.
7. How do you see the future of online media shaping out?
Barker: 
You have to love the “crystal ball” question because predicting the future is such an even playing field. One given you can feel safe about is technology will continue its relentless pace. Three-D becomes 4-D becomes the holodeck and who knows what after that.
Social will continue to be a dominant force, but then it always has been. Communicating is a basic human need, and online allows us to do that better than anything we’ve ever had. The ancestor of Facebook and MySpace was GeoCities, and the ancestor of GeoCities was the Usenet. Will the future belong to Facebook, or will it give way to another upstart now being hatched in a college dorm room somewhere? Or will people disgusted with having their privacy violated abandon the social networks and choose to interact “off the grid.” With its size and scale, seismic change is not uncommon, as we have witnessed.
Personalization and location-based services will usher in “Minority Report” much sooner than anyone thought , which makes privacy protection even more critical. Even people in love with the technology won’t use what they don’t trust. That’s where media can play a pivotal role and extend their businesses into a limitless future: By earning the trust we promise in our mission statements and creeds. When misinformation and rumors can fly at the speed of light, and every person has a bully pulpit to shout their message, media has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to be safe harbor for the Truth. That has always been the cornerstone of our business, something not likely to change as long as we are in business.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Let the Debate Begin Part II

This week's expert is a former professor of mine at Virginia Commonwealth University. He actually gave me my first exposure to online reporting in a class that I took that focused on covering Virginia's General Assembly. The project was the content base for an online magazine named On The Lege. I also have considered him a mentor and someone who's opinion I take very seriously. His name is Jeff South and here is a link to his bio.

I did a Q and A with Mr. South via email and here is the full text of the interview:

Crocker: In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of charging readers for online news?

South: The major "pro," of course, is revenue: It's expensive to report the news, and news organizations need an adequate income stream to do the job. It seems discriminatory and counterproductive to charge some readers (people who buy the printed newspaper) and not others (online readers).

The major "con" is that charging for online news will drive away many readers; too many people expect online information to be free. Another con -- or at least a challenge -- is that news organizations must find an easy way to charge (probably some kind of micropayment system).
 

Crocker: Did newspapers wait too long to try to charge?
South: In hindsight, it's easy to say that. But I was working in a newsroom (the Austin American-Statesman, part of the Cox Newspapers chain) at the dawn of online news, and in fact, many papers did charge initially: Cox, for example, partnered with the online service Prodigy -- so you DID have to pay to access the Statesman online. At the time, critics were saying newspapers OUGHT to be free online -- that "free" was the default expectation in the Net's open-source environment. So the Statesman, like many papers, went from paid (Prodigy) to free (on the Web) and perhaps now is considering returning to some kind of "charging" model.

If newspapers waited too long to do something, maybe it was to explain to people why this free model isn't sustainable. We should have been warning people that the day of reckoning would eventually arrive ... that, in fact, you get what you pay for.
 
Crocker: How's charging going to stop sites like the Drudge Report from subscribing, cutting and pasting news articles? Do you see that as potentially creating copyright issues?
South: Yes, this is a big problem. Fair use allows Drudge and other online news sources to excerpt or summarize snippets of news stories appearing elsewhere; and in many cases, all people want to read is the excerpt or summary. The news industry could go after copyright violators, but, as we've seen with the lawsuits filed against music downloaders by the Recording Industry Association of America, that is a bad PR move.

Crocker: Will charging for online content bring people back to print editions or push them to news sites such as CNN, Fox, and other network news sites? Or will charging create a domino effect, where those sites will begin to charge?
South: I don't think we will ever return to print editions. In my opinion, the sooner the newspaper industry abandons the "paper" part, the better. I think the solution will involve a system in which a large number of news websites charge for content; maybe they can institute a "passport" system that allows a registered user to access stories from a variety of national and local sites. (For example, a local newspaper might partner with CNN and the Washingtonpost.com -- so that a paying reader has easy access to news at all three sites.) I realize that there are numerous obstacles to creating such a system (including possible legal/antitrust issues).
 
Crocker: Will a change like this signal the near end of print media or will charging online fail disastrously?
South: I don't think print will ever completely disappear, but it will be a niche product -- like music CDs are becoming in today's iTunes age. In some cases, charging online may fail. It may depend on the news organization's brand in the community: If people see the product as worth paying for, I think they will. If they see it as digital fishwrap -- well, they won't pay.

As stated earlier, my opinion and thoughts about paying for clicks will be revealed at the end of this project. Mr. South's opinions have given me much to consider as did last week's comments from Jim Brady
 
Something I found to be interesting this week: 
Pressure on the Presses from the Wall Street Journal. An interactive piece about the state of the top 50 circulated papers in the U.S.

Coming next week: 
I am not going to jinx this by announcing who my next expert is, but I can assure you that those of you who have an interest in the history of the Internet and newspapers should really enjoy this post. If it doesn't work out, I may be forced to post a video of me shamelessly crying and writing a 500 hundred word apology.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Let the Debate Begin

This post will be the start of a series of posts in which, I will find an expert and bounce some questions off of them.

My first guest expert is Jim Brady, who I had the pleasure of working for at the Washington Post.com. Currently, Mr. Brady is the Vice President & Treasurer at the Online News Association and his impressive resume includes working as the U.S. Consulting Editor at The Guardian, the Executive Editor & Vice President at Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive, and the Executive Director, Editorial Operations at AOL, just to name a few.

I asked Mr. Brady in an email to send me any thoughts he had concerning paying for online content and here's what he had to say:

"In short, paid models are doomed to failure, except in cases where you have unique content in a non-commoditized subject area, i.e, Bloomberg and, to some extent, the Wall Street Journal. But if you produce content that's available on other free sites, consumers will choose those sites 95 percent of the time, both because its free and its easier (no registration/credit card setup).


"Newspaper publishers like to say that people should pay for quality content. But you can't build a business model around "should," only "will." And there's no evidence that a vast majority of news consumers are willing to pay. And the next generation is even less used to it.


"Lastly, when you put your content behind a pay wall, you remove your content from the whole web ecosystem, where no one will find it via serendipity. You can't be surprised, when you put your content behind lock and key, that no one is able to reach it..."

My thoughts on Mr. Brady's comments:
It is my opinion that the biggest hurdle for newspapers who are contemplating the move of pay for online content is the fact that since the early 90s, consumers have been able to receive free content and now they are facing having to pay.

And who's to say that websites like the Drudge Report won't still be able to get their hands on content that requires payment.


Related news story of interest:

Columbus Dispatch pairs iPad edition with print subscription
Posted by Damon Kiesow at 8:28 AM on Oct. 7, 2010 

While the publishing industry waits for details of Apple's rumored newspaper subscription plan, some publications, including The Wall Street Journal, People magazine and the Financial Times, have been moving forward on their own.

The Columbus Dispatch launched its first iPad app last month, and it too circumvents Apple's iTunes store by integrating directly with the paper's existing subscriber database. The app is free to print subscribers as well as to those who receive the paper's eEdition desktop replica.

Current nonsubscribers can access the iPad app for $99 a year, $10.99 a month or $2.54 a week. The paper also plans to offer single-day access to the app edition, at the print cover price, in the near future.

I talked with the paper's vice president of digital, Phil Pikelny, about that approach and the paper's overall mobile strategy. In this edited e-mail interview, Pikelny describes what amounts to a "read-anywhere" strategy, in which he foresees a "newspaper" subscription providing the reader with access to content on multiple print and digital platforms.



For more on this story from Poynter Online, check out this link.

Coming up next week: Another expert's opinion on paying for clicks from online papers --this opinion made me think a lot about my stance on the subject (which will be revealed in the coming weeks).









Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Who, What, When, Why and How

I am Robb Crocker, a graduate student at Rutgers University. I received my undergraduate degree at Virginia Commonwealth and had some wonderful work experiences in the new media field, but with the changing environment in media, I wanted to arm myself with more education. Ironically, I have not been the biggest advocate of Weblogs. In fact, outside of a couple of sports blogs, I really pay them no mind. But since I have created this and I have ownership of this, I am going embrace it.

Enough about me. For the next six weeks, I am going to examine the websites of newspapers and how they might be the downfall for the print editions. Every once in awhile, you hear a rumor about how the New York Times or the Washington Post is going to charge for online content. There are some subtle clues that appear to be baby steps to charging for content. For example, the Washington Post charges for pictures from their website. The photos cost anywhere from $19.95 to $324.95.

Update: 
According to this article from the Nieman Journalism Lab, the Washington Post is exploring pay for online content by gauging user interest. The paper recently introduced an iPhone application that allows purchasers to read the paper's content, charging $1.99 a year for the app. Although the cost is small, the Post just wants to see if readers are will to pay at all for content. Coincidentally, I have the app and I am very happy with it and have no issue paying for it.

The New York Times is charging $4.62 a week for a more "digitally remastered version" of the print addition that will be delivered to your computer. In addition, as of January 2011, the Times will begin to charge frequent online users a flat fee, unless they have a daily or Sunday subscription. This model might be the most logical but I hope that the Times has done its research because another New York paper, with a different online pay plan, has appeared to be an utter disaster.

In October of 2009, Newsday, which is based in Long Island, N.Y., became the first non-business newspaper to charge for online access. According to this article in the New York Observer, after three months, only 35 people decided to pay $5 a week or $260 a year for the publication's online content. If you go to the Newsday website, you will find only headlines and teasers that stop mid-sentence. You either have to pay for the content, or if you live in Long Island, one would simply go to a newsstand. So, is the strategy to charge for Online content, eventually phasing out the print edition or is it to bring people back to the print version in addition to boosting online sales? Not quite sure what Newsday's strategy is. I would imagine that there are a lot of newspaper publishers watching very closely how this is working out.

Update: 
I reached out to one of my undergraduate professors at VCU, Jeff South, who is the online media expert there and he informed me that Newsday's 35 subscriptions made sense. In an email, South said, "Newsday wanted $5 per week for the e-paper, and I think a lot of folks saw that as too compared (compared with free)." 

Update:
I Love This Quote -- A comment from Donnis Baggett, publisher of the Waco Tribune-Herald from this article on Baylor University's Lariat website:

"Newspapers across the country committed a strategic blunder when they decided to give away content that they spent money gathering," Donnis Baggett, publisher of the Waco Tribune-Herald, said. "Cable doesn't give away channels, record companies don't give away music, why should newspapers?" 

Strong words from the publisher, who started charging for online content two weeks ago. The charges range from $1.99 to $15.45.