Pay-for-News online: the next big thing?

Alternative title: how the industry is looking to the future with newspapers wrapped around its eyes.

The days of tough decisions seem to have finally knocked on the doors of media barons the world over, and these stalwarts of 20th century-type news-making are squeezing their brains to find a viable solution to their worries, a brave new business model that will save the God Newspaper.

But why bother? And why going down a route that many media commentators point out as being kin to suicide, a misjudged effort that "will backfire on the newspaper industry, putting it at even greater risk than it already is"? (1) Recently the American Press Institute (API) delivered a report to a summit of media execs in Chicago, in which it states that "paid content is the future of news website." See here for full story and click on image for the full report.

Among other things, I find a couple of the report's findings hugely explanatory of the attitude towards innovation of today's news world's elite, i.e. pressure Google into paying news organisations to aggregate their content according to a Fair Share policy, and create a "paid content wall" to retain print subscribers. So ultimately, this is what it comes down to: a holy alliance against the search engines to prevent the propagation of copyrighted material, and a last, desperate attempt to save print operations.

The "doctrines" (2) above are based on the assumption that only by asserting copyright on a product you can protect revenue, so if anybody wants to access what you do — articles, photography, essays, analyses, etc..— they will have to fork out money. To explain this to the layman, engaged media people often use this example:
What we do is a product, and we are are like any other professional who wishes to be rewarded for their work, becasue you wouldn't dream of not paying your doctor, the plumber, or a shop-keeper, now whould you?
Which is a very reasoned argument and all. I myself am trying to make a living out of writing and shooting pictures, and am a firm believer that freelance services should be paid. But today we, as media practitioners, are not only facing a steep learning curve as we quickly adapt to a more demanding audience, we also increase our communiticative potential by getting to know and using new tools that have opened our work to vast audiences in the first place. Google is one of these, both for individuals and large news organisations, as it sends 1 billion clicks a month to news websites — that's 400 clicks a second. (3)

Setting up and hiding behind content walls is clearly counterproductive in today's digitalised and globalised news world, as it does only perpetuate the ancronistic concept of the newsman as gatekeeper of precious, almost classified information rather than as facilitator of a borderless conversation aimed at sharing knowledge. See Cody Brown's analysis of what happens when "the news product" is privileged over "the news process."

Furthermore, if the proposed wall contents get implemented as a last resort to prop up ailing print operations — as API's report seems to suggest — news organisations would really show how little they understand the Internet reality. Sad as it may be, traditional outlets like newspapers are a dieing breed and it is about time to see radical innovation for what it really is: the only way forward.

Social media are setting the pace of 21st century's media revolution and have become the dominant players in news-gathering, news-making, and news-sharing. In this context, new, cutting edge ways to generate revenues must be investigated not only by large news organisations, but also by individual media practitioners (4), because, as Ken Doctor highlights, we ultimately need to achieve two goals: "maintaining the free flow of global news and information and figuring how to pay people to create journalism and other useful content we all need."

Both at the same time.

ps: Follow the debate launched by Jay Rosen on Twitter: #gopaywall

  1. What a Persuasive Technology Psychologist Can Tell Us About Paying for News Online. By Steve Outing
  2. Quoted from API's Newspaper Economic Action Plan via PoynterOnline.
  3. API's Newspaper Economic Action Plan itself acknowledge that 25 to 35 percent of traffic to news websites comes from the search giant and its Google News.
  4. Who could become true one-man shows, by mastering skills as diverse as writing, film editing, online publishing, programming. See here on Computer Assisted Reporters.


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