Thursday, September 16, 2010

What's Plaguing Print Media & Why We Should Pay For Quality Content Online


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.

5 comments:

  1. Farida,
    This is fantastic.. I love the look and feel --- and content of your blog site (2 words?) We still don't have a way out of this media conundrum. It takes resources to put out credible information but readers used to getting info for free may not want to pony up.

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  2. Thanks for your feedback, Leema. So glad you liked my blog.

    Yes, unfortunately newspapers should have never offered their product for free in the first place. It will be tough to get readers to pay up but as consumers, if we want to continue receiving credible and top-notch news and analysis, we have to be willing to pay for it. Without that, the print journalism industry will not be able to survive. And even if it does survive, it will not have enough resources to put out quality information, which I think is needed in the long run as the Web continues to become noisier.

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  3. Hi Farida - I have been saying exactly the same thing. I think the problem that news organizations and book publishers are having is that they need to figure out how to leverage the credibility that comes with their name recognition.

    New orgs don't like to think of themselves as brands, for obvious reasons, but they need to in order to stay in the game. Look at what the Huffington Post and Daily Beast have been able to do starting from scratch, in terms of finding a workable business model.

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  4. Newspapers should provide their content for a fee. It is after all the hard work of reporters and editors. Why give it for free then? If the content and research and stories are given for free, people will take it for granted. As I write this, I wonder what other countries do? I have never researched on what other countries do as far as their online media models are concerned.
    Great blog Farida! It's evident on the amount of thought you've put in making your blog - the books you recommend, your posts, illustrations. Good luck!

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  5. @Lisa Thanks so much for reading and sharing your insights. I couldn't have said it better. These days when even we, as individuals, need to have 'personal brands,' newspapers are no exception. It really is time for them to notch it up & make people see the value they provide. I was just reading this article yesterday (http://bit.ly/b0mDYe) on how AOL and Yahoo are entering the online news business in a big way. The advantage that HuffPo and Daily Beast have is that they aren't straddled by the costs of operating printing presses & distributing the paper. They started off directly online (it's also why Netflix has killed Blockbuster) and are managing to thrive. The market for news definitely exists, it's just that newspapers need to get customers to pay up or find other means to survive.

    @Amishi Thanks for your comment. As former journalists, we know the hard work that goes into reporting and producing news. In countries like India, as you are also well aware, people want to read a physical newspaper, since the Internet penetration is not so deep. But I think things will change there too (and it will happen sooner than most people expect. That's what happened in the U.S.) In the U.K., I know that papers like the Financial Times have adopted the part-payment model. Thanks for the positive feedback on my blog!

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