Before my husband and I got married, we were both in two different countries and spent many long hours talking over the phone. At times, my husband racked up as much as $200 in monthly phone bills.
Fast-forward to five years later, when I attempt conversation with the husband later in the evening or during dinner, I am often met with responses that range from ‘I’m hungry and don’t want to talk right now’ to ‘I’m tired/working on something/watching TV, and can’t talk about this right now.’ Each time this happens, I (unfailingly) remind him of the time when he paid good money just to hear me talk and how ironic it is that when he can talk to me for free, for as long as he wants, he simply does not want to.
The moral of this story? When something is available for free, its value is invariably cheapened. This, in my opinion, is precisely the root of the problem facing the print journalism industry in the United States.
When newspapers shifted online and made their Web versions free, they buried the very business model that they were built on. As readers flocked online, choosing to give up the experience of reading a physical paper in exchange for free content on the Web, circulation and advertising dropped. Since then, print publications have been fighting a tough, long battle as online advertising has failed to generate as much revenue.
Over the last few years, the survival of print media has been as discussed and debated as the-is-the-recession-over or will-the-world-end-in-2012 questions (in which case we have a lot more to worry about than just the demise of print media.) Last week, The New York Times’ publisher and Chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., hinted the company will stop printing The New York Times “sometime in the future.” He also said he believes that “serious media organizations must start collecting additional revenue from their readers.”
The question of whether and how much readers would pay for content has been a perplexing one with no conclusive answers. Among the major national newspapers, currently, The Wall Street Journal and Newsday charge for online access to large parts of their websites. Other newspapers, such as The New York Times and the Financial Times, have experimented with the part-payment (keeping certain parts of the site free) and micro-payment model (charging a few cents per article) on an on-and-off basis. In the short-term, this strategy has not worked, since consumers could simply shift loyalties to other publications that continue to be free.
Having worked for a few print publications, the survival and spirit of print journalism and media is a subject close to my heart. While they will continue to evolve to keep up with the technological habits and demands of its consumers, I am deeply optimistic about their continued existence.
For one, as the Web gets more and more crowded, we will need authoritative and reliable sources for information and news about the world around us. The Internet is cluttered with all kinds of information, and I don’t believe that blogs and user-generated content can replace the quality of credible information and insight that newspapers offer.
One way to cut through the noise and separate quality content from everything else is to put a price on it. Convincing readers to pay for what was, thus far, available for free will be a challenge but as consumers if we can pay for an iPhone app/game or to download music on iTunes, we can pay for quality journalism as well.
Would you pay to read a newspaper or news article online? I would love to hear your thoughts.