Newspapers are having a hard time coming up with the right online business model to ensure their future. Last week the New York Times announced that it would be charging for content on its Web site, and, in the course of routine 317am blogging, I stumbled upon three major paradigms that big newspapers are betting on as their path through the wilderness. There’s the “walled garden” approach of putting a significant fee on each article, the low-cost subscription model, and the welcome-every-eyeball invitation. I’m not sure which paradigm will win in the end, but it doesn’t take a Princeton physics major to spot a loser when you see one.
But first, why are newspapers feeling so beleaguered? Oh, plentyof reasons, but In a nutshell:
1. People worldwide, particularly the younger generations, are shifting to ingesting content on electronic devices, and the traditional print newspaper is bleeding readers year in, year out. Only one U.S. newspaper increased its circulation last year – the Wall Street Journal – and that trend shows no sign of abating. While print is far from dead, the daily “news-paper” will never regain the circulation it once had. Perhaps more worrisome, generations are growing up without acquiring the newspaper habit. People born after 1980 get 62 percent of their Web content from people they know – that is, Facebook friends, Twitter feeds, text messages, video clips, etc. As a college student famously told a New York Times reporter a couple of years back, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”
2. So big deal – all newspapers have Web sites, right? Yes, but newspapers themselves, magazines, link aggregators, niche Web sites, bloggers, YouTube, Facebook friends, you-name-it are providing reams of good content online for free. A newspaper’s site is in competition for readers’ time and attention with all these sources. What’s more, people are used to free, high-quality stuff online a click away, and they don’t expect to pay, or wait 30 seconds to carry out a transaction..
3. Skilled reportorial staffs covering the world, or even Prince Georges County, cost money. Scribblers in America were once ink-stained wretches barely one step up from the printers who set words in type. (Oops, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain both started out as printers.) Somewhere along the way they became journalists, a guild of professionals with credentials, a highly developed code of ethics, and, if employed by a big elite metropolitan papaer, very nice salaries. I’m guessing the New York Times’s international-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman makes more money than Hillary Clinton does these days. Fat staffs of fat-cat journalists were affordable when each big-city newspaper had a cozy near-monopoly on news in its locale, but the Internet has ended that era. Today’s harsh paradox is that a big newspaper’s high-quality reporting is what gives it value, but that reporting costs too much in a universe of free information.
4. Oh, and one more thing – newspapers’ profit engines for many years, local classified ads, have been decimated by free alternatives like Craig’s List.
No wonder newspaper execs are scrambling.
So here’s what happened to me last week.
Bloggers, as Garr Reynolds likes to point out, are like sharks. We have to keep moving or die, we need a lot of fresh meat to blog about, and we’ll scavenge the vast seas of the Internet to grab whatever we can find.
I was working on a post about male book clubs, and Google’s #4 item on that topic was a promising-sounding article from the Boston Globe’s Web site, called boston.com. When I clicked the article, I was shocked to see this:
For much of its 16 years, Ned Pride’s book group was little more than a handy pretext for an evening of locker-room-style banter among buddies. But lately that has changed. (Full article: 1332 words) THIS ARTICLE IS AVAILABLE IN OUR ARCHIVES
The Globe site explained that the archive was free to its print newspaper subscribers, but as a non-subscriber, I had some alteratives. I could download this article for $4.25, sign up for four articles for $9.95, or commit to a month’s online subscription for $25.95. What did I do? Left the site immediately, of course.
I try to limit expenses for 317am since this blog’s income is exactly zero dollars. Also, I’d noted that Google was offering me 928,000 alternatives to the boston.com article under “men’s book clubs.” In fact, when I clicked Google #8, the LA Times book blog nicely summarized the Boston Globe article and provided me with its lead paragraph and a money quote from good old Ned Pride, who made an excellent strawman for the thrust of my post.
(to be continued)
Tune in here tomorrow for Part II of this post, in which I’ll be explaining why the Globe’s approach with boston.com is suicidal and what the New York Times and the Washington Post are offering as alternatives.