Why aren’t we paying for news?
With their backs against the wall, 2009 was going to be the year that newspaper publishers finally got together to charge for the interactive content they have been giving away for free for more than a decade.
Nearly two-thirds of the way into the year, however, there has been far more talk than action.
Apart from determined-sounding utterances from certain notable publishers and new pay walls erected this summer in Harlingen, TX, and Schenectady, NY, the industry has made essentially no progress in figuring out how to effectively monetize the formidable web traffic that represents its strongest asset as print franchises wane.
As discussed in the next installment of this three-part series, there may be far less than meets the eye in last week’s assertion from Journalism Online that it has recruited hundreds of still-to-be-identified newspapers to put pay walls on their sites.
There are two reasons you are not paying for content at newspapers other than the Wall Street Journal, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a few others:
:: Publishers can’t figure out how to charge for content without throttling their web traffic and the online advertising that comes along with it.
:: Individual publishers are afraid to move unilaterally to begin charging for content but also unable to coalesce as a group around a common philosophy and platform for doing so. (Antitrust concerns, while a convenient excuse, actually are not an issue, as there are many ways publishers can act in concert without unlawfully colluding.)
Working for the better part of this year to promote an industry-owned solution to monetize the interactive traffic generated by newspapers, I have gained rare insight into how newspaper and magazine publishers are struggling to solve this intellectually, emotionally and commercially challenging problem at the same time they are facing a host of other, equally daunting intellectual, emotional and commercial challenges.
Readers should understand that I have a professional and economic interest in ViewPass, a system designed to capture the full value of a publisher’s interactive audience by maximizing advertising yield and charging for content when it is appropriate to do so.
At this writing, it is far from clear that newspapers will band together to fund the technology and marketing infrastructure necessary to create ViewPass, which would optimize the revenues and profits that publishers could achieve from the 3.5 billion page views they collectively drive each month.
In their enlightened self-interest (and, candidly, mine), they would be well advised to do so.
But the reason publishers may not act on ViewPass – or any of several alterative solutions – is that they are so worried about being wrong that they can’t decide on whether, or how, to charge for the valuable content that it costs them a fortune to produce.
Although a number of publishers have said from time to time that they want to charge for access to their web and mobile content, few have taken concrete steps to do so. Instead, they are waiting for someone else to go first – and evidently hoping, as my business partner Ridgely Evers says, that “a miracle will occur.”
Miracles, however, appear to be in short supply.
Next: Why publishers are afraid to charge