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Business - Written by on Friday, February 20, 2009 16:38 - 4 Comments

Naumi Haque
TIME tells newspaper industry how to save itself

Here’s an “in case you missed it” story. I was reading the newspaper recently and came across a reference to Walter Isaacson article “How to Save Your Newspaper.” Ironic that I came across this quite poignant article about the demise of the newspaper business model by reading a newspaper acquired via subscription. In any case, Isaacson makes some great points:

More people are reading the news, but fewer people are paying for it. There’s definitely a prosumer angle here, but it’s still one of those things that make you go “hmm” when you consider the amount of professional content being given away for free.

“There is, however, a striking and somewhat odd fact about this crisis. Newspapers have more readers than ever. Their content, as well as that of newsmagazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever — even (in fact, especially) among young people. The problem is that fewer of these consumers are paying. Instead, news organizations are merrily giving away their news. According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines.”

That’s not to say that people wouldn’t pay for the news. Isaacson derides Internet and phone service providers for failing to make available the technology to allow third parties to use their micro-payment system that works so effectively for text messages and ring tones. In reality, the Ma Bell’s of the world will probably miss the boat on this one.

“We have a world in which phone companies have accustomed kids to paying up to 20 cents when they send a text message but it seems technologically and psychologically impossible to get people to pay 10 cents for a magazine, newspaper or newscast.”

However, I do see a role for some innovative paid news service offered by someone like Apple. Maybe the established leader in mobile micro-payments can partner with one of the established news agencies to offer this type of functionality on the iPhone. Isaacson points out that companies like Apple and Amazon have shown us that micro-payments for content are not only possible, but can be transformational for a business. In fact, it almost seems stupid that newspapers should be suffering so.

“Steve Jobs got music consumers (of all people) comfortable with the concept of paying 99 cents for a tune instead of Napsterizing an entire industry, and Jeff Bezos with his Kindle showed that consumers would buy electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers if purchases could be done simply.”

Finally, more than just a way to save the newspaper industry, Isaacson paints micro-payments for content as an obligation to save creative industries of all kinds.

“I say this not because I am “evil,” which is the description my daughter slings at those who want to charge for their Web content, music or apps. Instead, I say this because my daughter is very creative, and when she gets older, I want her to get paid for producing really neat stuff rather than come to me for money or decide that it makes more sense to be an investment banker.”

For more Wikinomics analysis of the newspaper industry, read previous posts here, here, and here.



4 Comments

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Tel
Feb 20, 2009 19:42

I agree completely, the last thing anyone wants is for creative people to become investment bankers. They would invent all sorts of interesting, innovative and exciting risk transfer instruments and trigger a huge but short lived economic boom, followed by a devastating crash and depression. No no, that must never be allowed to happen.

Back to the real world now…

Walter Isaacson sees Ma-Bell making 20c per transaction and thinks he would like some of that action. I wonder if he has ever considered offering Ma-Bell a slice of his action, so they can come to an agreement (you know, actually pay for a service rather than whine about not getting handed a freebie)? The sexy phonecall industry seems to have got in on the deal (but no doubt the sex industry is well accustomed to the requirement for side payments as a cost of doing business). The psychics, mystics and God peddlers all seem to get along OK with the phone industry. There’s absolutely no sign that either the Internet industry or the phone industry have been reluctant to cooperate in revenue models for all sorts of business ventures, yet somehow Walter Isaacson sees it as reasonable to blame the communications industry for his problem. Have fun losing on that one Walter.

As usual, the newspapers honestly expect that everyone else should make space for their business model, they should never have to adapt, someone should just come along and fix it for them. If people don’t want to subscribe to their news, then it all stems from this poorly understood economic concept known as supply and demand. Technology has massively increased supply, while people have only modestly increased demand (and if you look at google news, you very rapidly see that all the mainstream newspapers do is reprint the same story from a common feed, often without even changing the wording).

Xanthe
Feb 21, 2009 10:08

‘Why small payments wont save publishers” — Clay Shirky

http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/02/why-small-payments-wont-save-publishers/

Jason Wallis
Feb 23, 2009 11:30

Why not just have a “donate now” button instead of micropayments per article, etc…

Dan
Feb 27, 2009 1:05

I haven’t seen an online news organization become successful with charging for news online yet. The NY Times gave up on their subscriptions for extra content. But what the NY Times has done is expertly laid out their news in their website, so it’s easy to scan and to go in depth to read. And the NY Times has advertising all over their site, so they are actually making money online, but it generally doesn’t blink and dance in your face, so you can still read the news. I think that’s the model to follow. Even when newspapers and magazines existed only in printed formats, the subscription fees generally just paid for printing and keeping some lights on, but the advertising is what kept them in business.
And since this is the Wikinomics blog…I’m sure if the traditional media looked around and asked for help there are people who would love to help save their hometown newspapers by assisting in creating online versions with advertising support space (maybe a little WordPress with OpenX – the presses are almost free, just some money for hosting and they are all set).

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