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.

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