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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Online newspaper paywalls - a modest proposal

Some newspapers which used to deliver free online content are now charging readers for it. There are writers like Tim Dunlop who believe this model is doomed to failure. (Note: this opens in a new window) 

Are they right?

Here's what I would like to see happen re paywalls - which I imagine will never get off the ground because papers like the Australian now charging for content probably carry too much baggage.

Allow a person to set up a small credit account with, say, the Oz. When the reader is lured on to read what they feel to be a good piece, they press the button to have the stated price deducted from their credit. Want the page ad-free or minimal advertising? Be given the option but be prepared to pay a little more.

The newspaper would very quickly discover who is being read and who their millstone writers are. That would be a bit scary for some of the hacks, but it would show with blinding clarity who's making the profit for the paper.

A graph showing who has been read most and which stories could be shown on the site.

Feedback on all aspects of this would thus be instantaneous.

Who the paying public deem to be 'good' journos would, I daresay, be rewarded appropriately by the paper.

Win-win? Nah... obviously I'm totally naive and/or there's something that has to be terribly wrong with this model. I'm no economist. What is it?

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  1. Interesting thoughts Denis. the model will encourage them to pander to their paying customers and in the end it will become an insular product reflecting the interests of its existing readers. Oh wait .....

    michael jaydog

  2. Oh you cynic! :) But there may be something in what you say. So it's too big a risk for them, you think? Yet if they mixed some free content judiciously with paid.... I don't know. does its best to attract paying customers using carrot and stick. I'll see if I get any other responses. I'd publicise it a bit more if I thought it would generate some debate, but given the appalling state of what passes for journalism in some quarters, and what people seem to be prepared to accept, I doubt it.

    My real concern is for those journos who have ideals and integrity and do want to publish what they have dug out as their truth, not just to push a political line.

    Many thanks for responding.

  3. I like your ideas. Never thought of it like that before. Always thought 'Ah, they're taking away my free newspaper'. I think some papers need to be free content. I like the idea of a credit account. I like the idea of journos being made accountable for their content by readers. I despair of the readers who will still pay for Bolt's work.

  4. I like going up and having a chat with Ed, the newsagent and buying the paper version. I imagine that has very little bearing on the argument you're making, but I wanted to throw Kurt Vonnegut and his envelope buying expedition in really:[when Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope] "Oh, she says, well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore"

  5. The problem, I think, Denis is that there is no single model that will work for it depends upon the outlet.

    The Financial Review put a paywall up allowing for individual view but it was too expensive.

    It should be technically possible to combine a subscription model with your suggestion to meet different needs. However, there is still a revenue issue.

    The papers have generated revenue from two sources, subs plus advertising. The free papers have relied on advertising alone. Much of the classified advertising has migrated on line, so that's down. If people read on-line, then the papers lose subs and advertising revenue. There really isn't an effective on-line advertising model to my mind.

    The models that have been tried so far for both ads and pay have not worked very well. In the US, the Huffington Post seems to have worked because it apparently did not pay its contributors, cutting costs.

    Sorry that this is a bit rambling. My feeling is that it would be possible to develop a blended model, but that it's going to be different for each paper.

  6. I wrote a rather long comment about all your comments, and Blogger says it's too long as a comment! I'll make it a separate posting then, and notify you by other means.

    Thanks very much. Now do the Vonnegut thing - it's Saturday! :)

  7. As for rewarding (by continuing employment) writers who are most read,I agree with G&G's comment. Was it Media Watch or the Chaser people (yes, them)who revealed that the most viewed piece online (on ch 7 maybe) was not anything to do with asylum seekers, hurricanes etc, but one about someone's 'secret love life'. Right,that's useful to help us all survive this overpopulated planet! Let's not reward that type of reporting..



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