Tag Archives | Media

I Wish That You’d Pay for Web Content. But Would You?

T-PollImagine someone spending fifteen years furiously digging themselves into a deep, dangerous hole…and then bitterly complaining about the fact that he or she is trapped at the bottom of a deep, dangerous hole. That’s the situation with today’s media industry..of which, of course, I count myself as a member. Starting in the mid-1990s, publishers began to give away content for free on the Web, a decision which profoundly impacted the economics of the business. Now the business is crumbling. Everyone from Rupert Murdoch to the Associated Press is grousing about the business model which they helped to create. And publishers are trying to figure out how to charge for what they’ve given away for years.

The New York Observer has an interesting report on plans the New York Times is formulating to get online readers to pay in some fashion. One scenario involves Times Web content being free until a visitor’s reached a certain word count of number of page views; another would launch a membership system that sounds a lot like a public TV pledge drive. The first sounds unwieldy; the second might work for an august institution like the Times, but won’t save most of the industry.

I cheerfully admit that I’d like to see media companies figure out a way to make consumers comfortable with the idea of forking over cash for digital content. As a reader, I want to see the publications I love prosper, or at least manage to stay in business. As a journalist, I’d like to work in an industry with a business model that ensures that sites like, oh, Technologizer can thrive.

(Note: I have no plans to demand money from folks who read this site. But I just set up a Kindle version of Technologizer using Amazon’s new self-serve blog publishing system–the listing is live, but you won’t be able to subscribe for a day or two. It’ll cost $1.99 a month and I kinda think that I’ll be lucky if I make enough from my cut to buy myself a burrito every now and then.)

I wish I had some profound insight into how the media biz might make readers willing to pay for content again. I don’t. But these points seem self-evident:

1) Once you’ve begun to give something away for free, it’s mighty hard to convince someone that he or she should pay for it;

2) It’s tough to charge when you have direct competitors that don’t;

3) It is possible to charge for usually-free content if it’s in a form that provides new benefits (which is why people will pay for CSI as a DVD box set or an iTunes download even though it’s free on CBS);

4) It is possible to charge for high-quality stuff you can’t otherwise get (which is how HBO became a big business in the 1970s, even though TV had been free for decades);

5) Charging for something new that was never free isn’t inherently implausible (which is why the notion of paying two bucks a month to read blogs on the Kindle makes more sense than blogs announcing that they’re instituting a $2 subscription fee on the Web).

Add up all of the above, and I still don’t see a scenario developing in the immediate future in which millions of people pay meaningful amounts of money for the digital equivalents of newspapers and magazines. Then again, much of the Web’s history to date wasn’t predicted by anyone, so I’m not siding with the folks who say that it’s inevitable that the Web will be (mostly) free forever either.

Let’s end this with a T-Poll:


Is The Web The Solution for America's Troubled Newspaper Industry?

With the sudden news that the country is about to lose another high-circulation paper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, it is becoming increasingly clear that in an attempt to stay relevant, these companies are betting on the web for their salvation.

The P-I will move to a online only source a la the Huffington Post, but it will come at a high cost: the 165-person newsroom would likely shrink to less than 20. In addition, its likely that much of the reporting would be outsourced.

What’s worse, the closure of the P-I, and the earlier shuttering of the Rocky Mountain News, could threaten other papers. Both operated what are called “joint operating agreements,” where competing papers sign agreements to pool operating costs. The Seattle Times and The Denver Post were the other halves of each respective agreement.

Neither were doing well beforehand, and now are faced to pony up for their expenses on their own.

Besides the P-I, other papers are going online. The Christian Science Monitor, which has published in print for 100 years, will go online only in the spring. But some are still trying to stick it out.

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Ziff-Davis: The Legendary Magazine Publisher Publishes Magazines No More

Popular AviationThis news has more to do with dead trees than electrons, but I can’t resist: Ziff Davis has announced that it’s selling its 1Up network of gaming sites to Hearst and shutting down Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. Coming around six weeks after the company discontinued the print version of PC Magazine, the news leaves ZD with no paper-based publications at all.

Which is a big deal, since the 82-year-old publisher had as long, influential, and impressive a history of consumer publishing as any company on the planet. Among its titles over the years, other than EGM and PC Mag: Amazing Stories, Car and Driver, Computer Shopper, Creative Computing, MacUser, MacWeek, PC/Computing, PC Week, Popular Electronics, Popular Photography, Stereo Review, Yahoo Internet Life., and many others I’m not thinking of right now. Nobody published more successful mags read by more enthusiasts with a wider range of passions, or made more money doing so.

Ziff Davis remains in business and will be focusing its attention on the PCMag.com Web site network.  Given the state of print publishing and Ziff’s many years of decline as a print powerhouse, its departure from magazine publishing isn’t surprising–and might even be a good idea. It surely won’t be the last old-school magazine publisher that leaves magazines completely behind. But it’s still hard to get my head around the idea that nobody anywhere will read Ziff Davis magazines anymore.

(Necessary but superfluous disclaimer: I spent 18 years working at IDG, Ziff Davis’s principal rival in tech publishing–which is still successfully publishing magazines around the world.)