Ben Langhinrichs

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August, 2009
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Genii Weblog


Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Mon 10 Aug 2009, 12:14 PM
In my earlier post, I made the suggestion that pay-for-content news was possible, even probable, but that I didn't know how it was likely to look.  I wanted to separate that relatively educated opinion with a separate, relatively uneducated (about the news media), prediction about what the actual mechanism will be that will get people to pay for news content on-line.  Here are my thoughts:

First, it won't be micro-payments.  There are some ways that micro-payments work, but I think from a psychological point of view, you don't want people making the decision over and over each time they click on a story or newspaper site.  Therefore, I predict some form of subscription service.

Second, it won't be "paying for content", which people will have trouble stomaching, but rather "paying for speed".  Imagine if the New York Times were simply delayed two hours unless you had the subscription.  All content would be available for searching and indexing and redistribution, but two hours later for those without the subscription.  This would eliminate the issues the New York Times originally had with subscriptions and not being available for Google-indexing, but would provide an experience that would benefit users.  In fact, it might not have to be two hours, perhaps one hour or even thirty minutes.  Anything to make people feel like they were getting the scoop.  It might also be that the videos would load faster, the pages would load faster, anything that would allow the premium customer to obtain a more desired experience.

People may remember the speaker at Lotusphere a couple of years back who described how Starbucks had made coffee-buying into more of an experience than a product, and thus were able to charge much more.  Starbucks may be struggling at the moment, but the point is still valid.  Pay-for-content news will probably only work when it is really pay-for-experience news, and when the price buys timeliness or speed or something that people value, rather than actual content.

The exact mechanics will be developed by somebody smarter than me, I imagine.

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Mon 10 Aug 2009, 10:46 AM
I have been thinking about the concept of pay-for-content news.  I have mixed feelings about the exact model by which news organizations would charge for content, but I am quite convinced that some form of pay-for-content system is necessary.  But the conventional wisdom is well expressed by this comment from Robin Whitman (one of the comments following the post):
At the recent Congressional hearing about what the government could do to help newspapers, most members of the expert panel agreed that “the horse is out of the stable.” … It’s too late to charge money for the web content that we now get free.
Whether you like the idea of pay-for-content or not, I'd like to challenge the conventional wisdom.  Actually, there are plenty of examples of free becoming paid for a variety of reasons:

TV content:   30-40 years ago, it was virtually all free (or paid by advertising the way web content is).  Now, well over half of Americans pay for that television content via a cable bill.

Drinking water: 20 years ago, it was virtually all free.  Now, Americans spend $15 billion on bottled water a year, more than they spend on movies.

Music downloads: 10 years ago, Napster and similar file sharing programs allowed free, albeit possibly illegal, downloads of music.  The conventional wisdom was that the horse was out of the stable then as well, and that pay-per-download was a non-starter for music.  Now, iTunes is the place to go for music downloads, and while there is still plenty of illegal file sharing, the revenues for iTunes and competing services have grown by double digits each of the past few years.

So, I disagree that “the horse is out of the stable.”  It is simply too early to tell, and there is every possibility that somebody will develop a formula to charge for content in a workable way.  For the sake of traditional journalism (as opposed to the "conventional wisdom" represented by so many pseudo-news opinion sites), I hope so.

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