There has been a whole lot of hand-wringing over the pernicious effects of the internet in general, and Craigslist, eBay, and blogs in particular, on the newspaper business. The subscription erosion, the plummeting of ad revenue, the weakening of dead tree versions have put the newspaper business into serious danger.  (We will save the discussion of how the media became neutered corporate toadies, toothless shells of their former selves, for another day).

Articles like this or this and even this today discuss a variety of complex technological driven solutions.

The problem facing journalism and newspapers is not one of technology — it is one of behavior. People are used to free, they don’t think they need to pay for content. A solution that ignores this simple fact is destined to fail, regardless of technology, software or widgets.

This requires a behavioral change, from both the newspapers and its readers. Both the NYT and the WSJ have accidentally stumbled towards the right idea, but neither paper got it right.

Of course, I appreciate the irony of discussing charging for content on a blog that gives content away for free.

Rather than complicate matters, a simple 3 step solution, one requiring a minimum of cooperation, may be able to resolve this. The goal is to change mindsets, alter behavior, and generate revenue in a sustainable way (i.e., make papers structurally profitable).

My suggestion:

1) REGISTRATION: All media sites (WSJ, WaPo, NYT) should to require registration to read ANY article. Start with a Name and Email (perhaps later add address and phone number). Every online paper should have a firewall, and all you can see if you are not registered is the headline and 1st paragraph (ala WSJ). This needs to occur across the media landscape at the same time.

The point of this is to establish a relationship between the reader and the content producer, as opposed to a mere blind consumption.

2) SELECT PAYMENTS: Six months later, introduce micro-payments (pennies) for select content. This would consist of a few pennies an article. Credit Card companies should be able to batch process, or banks can do direct transfers (like paypal). This needs to be a simple and familiar transaction, preferably one that does no require an entire new infrastructure.

I would also look for creative ways to determine what articles are charged for: Front page, most popular, most commented on, most blogged, etc. The goal at this point is not to generate revenue, but to get the media consuming public used to paying for content.

3) FULL SUBSCRIPTION: One year later, ALL NEW articles require micro-payments.

I would  also suggest that articles more than 3 or 6 months old be either very inexpensive or advertiser supported.

A few caveats:

We know that the annual subscription model won’t work outside of finance. And that there will be numerous papers that won’t survive, either on or off line. Free content is going to continue to siphon off readers and ad dollars, albeit modestly. “Revenue from newspaper classified ads is off nearly 50 percent in the past decade, a drop that comes to almost $10 billion. Only a fraction of this loss is because of Newmark’s company, but as the largest online classified site, craigslist is easy to blame,” says Wired. Total revenue (from all sources) fall last year was $7.5 billion.

And this means that total (free) reader numbers will be going down in the future; Papers need to do the math to ensure the loss of advertising revenue from non-paying readers is offset by subscriber revenue.

Papers need to find ways to generate revenue form this relati0nship beyond mere content.

And, media better not Plaxo the reader or the whole approach fails. Papers then need to be trusted merchants, and be extremely cautions once they have email addresses not to abuse them. I hated all of the social network sites (Plaxo, Linked In) as they became instant address book spam monsters.

That’s the plan. What exists currently isn’t working, the annual model (as shown by Times Select) didn’t work either.

Its better than what they have now, and much simpler than what is being proposed . . .

>

Previously:
Media Joins the Blogging Crowd (March 8th, 2006)

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2006/03/wsj-joins-the-blogging-crowd/

WSJ: Free or Paid? (Yes) October 3rd, 2007

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2007/10/wsj-free-or-paid-yes/

Murdoch’s WSJ Changes Creates Opening for NYT, FT (April 24, 2008)

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2008/04/murdochs-wsj-changes-creates-opening-for-nyt-ft/

How to Fix Financial Television (June 8th, 2009)

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/06/how-to-fix-financial-television/

Category: Financial Press, Web/Tech, Weblogs

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

62 Responses to “How to Save Newspapers & Journalism”

  1. madman130 says:

    Things you listed will happen within five years. I can’t see how many of them will survive in current form without a government bailout. The bailout is coming and NPR will be the new model.

    One thing worth trying in the interim is to be more friendly to conservative and other points of views. Think about it if MSM was your only source of news you would have not known any thing about John Edward and Van Jones affairs. I know Beck is a deepshit but you can’t deny the fact people are walking away from MSM and Newspapers in droves to internet and other points of views because MSM sees itself as a wing of the democratic party and liberal cause. That’s a good way to turn off half of your potential customers, no?

  2. globaleyes says:

    I’m hooked on blind consumption of media content. Although your idea makes sense – especially to them – Many will balk at registering with every media outlet they encounter and then want to read.

    It’s a wacky world.

  3. Greg0658 says:

    got me going .. “I got into (yet another) one of those useless, interesting, …..”

    yesterdays later afternoon & evenings tv news programs did the same story “JWs liar” .. I know this thread is on paper and ink .. I like the suggestions generally .. pennies per story opened not just pass over some linky

    I brought up the JW story here .. seems such a waste the way we do things on a BP scale .. I know we need to do it this way / this way is our jobs for people .. since we are an info-tainment society .. and not enough jobs to go around still .. machines and chips get all the gravy (I mean work) .. yuch

  4. Greg0658 says:

    I confess/profess – I believe the alternate WTC concept/reality too … I could go on, but not today

  5. sabbadoo32 says:

    I think a nominal annual fee, $5-20, would be perfectly OK.

    The newspaper, at least good ones, should be enjoying revenue streams from online ads and other email/web marketing campaigns.

    Per article micropayments, in my opinion, will drive people away.

    Just as we have aggregators for news, I think we’ll end up with aggregators for paid content. Pay one low price and receive free access to any number of sites.

  6. torrie-amos says:

    buggy whips, most folks don’t care about knowledge, and since most knowledge they provide is crappy, say la vie………too many small sites can generate 5k a month with ads, write some good articles that are free, which is enough for most folks, plus you got cable news and radio news………imho folks are eminently atrracted too PASSION, i’d rather read a passionate article, even if it is somewhat off, then general bs drivel which most of them write……..the small ones are passionate, the big ones are not will never again be………it is a business like most that reached a peak and things changed…..is there anyone below the age of 30 that subscribes to a daily paper????

  7. Concerned American says:

    We are so far away from real journalism these days. Why would anyone pay for propaganda? We should charge them to read or watch the shit these days. Any one looking for facts in the news is looking for love in the wrong places.

    Maybe a new fairness and fact checking news organization that filters out the propaganda would be worth paying a little for. I would pay for that.

  8. markd says:

    I was a subscriber to NYT’s select … I think it was 50 a yr and they gave up on it. micropayments I would never log on. once a year sub ok but if you could not sell it before whats changed ?? (other then the fact they really need the money)

  9. VennData says:

    BR says “…We will save the discussion of how the media became neutered corporate toadies, toothless shells of their former selves, for another day…” But that’s the problem.

    People would be willing to pay for useful information. But like corporate radio, this pasteurized pulp the papers churn out isn’t anything special. Corporate radio is sliding just the same.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125184915050077813.html

    Think of it like listening to Charlie Gasparino. A long-winded, un-interuptible “story” about some Wall Sreet Insider you could care less about. The papers aren’t relevant.

  10. drplokta says:

    You left out step 4: Everyone involved goes to jail for operating an illegal cartel. It’s perfectly OK for individual newspapers to introduce charges, but not for them to do it in co-ordination with their competitors.

    And then there’s step 5: Any remaining free news site gets all of the links from blogs, and thus all the Google search results and site traffic, while the paid sites, who have opted themselves out of the conversation, wither and die.

  11. markd says:

    oh yeah, just because Murdoch is going to charge doesn’t me4an it will work.

  12. danm says:

    When I was in university, I kept on being bombarded with surveys from marketing students. There were no jobs for them at the beginning of the 90s.

    With rates at zero, companies can still get the financing for advertising. Heck, in my part of the world, the Big 3 were advertising like crazy as they were going under. But one day, the music will stop and adverstising budgets will get shellacked for real. Imagine the paper industry then.

    Pro-sports will closely follow.

  13. KidDynamite says:

    but there’s another question – if we have The Big Picture (and others, doing better work than the msm), why do we need the WSJ?

  14. mobiaxis says:

    as in everything else internet related, pornography is the best model…

    you can get a 1-3 minute clip for free, but if you want the ‘money’ shot and other ‘premium’ content, you must subscribe.

  15. EricTyson says:

    BR Says: “People are used to free, they don’t think they need to pay for content. A solution that ignores this simple fact is destined to fail, regardless of technology, software or widgets.”

    Is that why your book is free? How about your Value Line subscription. Are you saying that you only use free investment research?!

    People have and will continue to pay for quality content. Now, there will be “free” content to whet people’s appetite or to sell something else like money management services – your model, no?

    ~~~

    BR: The blog is free. Early version of the book was published, in small pieces, for free here. We give away lots of Free Samples of the research.

    Fred Wilson calls it Freemium — give away a little, charge for an upgrade

  16. Rikky says:

    i would never subscribe to micropayments. if i really enjoyed someone’s commentary the subscription newsletter type format might be something i’d be open to. today i visit 6-12 blogs including the top AP and Reuters news stories to learn everything i need to know about the world and my local community. all paid for by site advertising. i’m afraid a model that tries to work with the existing structure to extract payments from its viewership is doomed to fail. the internet has changed the landscape allowing a near limitless channel of content where one can find what is best suited to their needs most of it for free.

  17. dlewis says:

    Sorry Barry, you’re wrong about this one. Mircopayments won’t save newspapers. Clay Shirky is right about this (and much else). We won’t be nickel-and-dimed and micropayments make sharing content hard, which we hate. See: “Why Small Payments Won’t Save Publishers” at: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/02/ See also: “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” at: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/

    I like the way Shirky concludes the first post, “The threat from micropayments isn’t that they will come to pass. The threat is that talking about them will waste our time, and now is not the time to be wasting time. The internet really is a revolution for the media ecology, and the changes it is forcing on existing models are large. What matters at newspapers and magazines isn’t publishing, it’s reporting. We should be talking about new models for employing reporters rather than resuscitating old models for employing publishers; the more time we waste fantasizing about magic solutions for the latter problem, the less time we have to figure out real solutions to the former one.”

    ~~~

    BR: The current system is unsustainable, annual payments only work for Finance, what else is left?

    The alternative seems to be a strong push into blogs themselves, but I don’t see that supporting true investigative journalism.

    That leaves NPR, BBC, and ProPublica . . .

  18. Jessica6 says:

    I wouldn’t subscribe to micropayments either – mostly because I only use my credit card when travelling and even though I’m still under 40 I’ve always been a cash-only person where possible.

    I also find that too much ‘news’ is just junk – either gossip about people who appear on TV shows (and I don’t watch TV so I only know who they are from ‘news’ about them) or there’s far too much copy-paste from either wire reports or press releases.

    A publication would have to be pretty consistently of high quality for me to want to pay for its content.

    My idea would be to keep content free but in addition to registration, require users to complete a fairly detailed survey every few months where they provide information about their consumer habits, level of income, geographic region, etc. There could even be a ‘central registration’ that wouldn’t require multiple user IDs and passwords to remember – particularly where there’s concentrated cross-ownership across a lot of different websites (TV, newspapers, etc.) such as United Business Media or NBC or Fox, etc.

    The opportunity to provide such market data to advertisers, along with the ability to target to specific groups, would probably be worth it for the advertisers to pay a little more.

  19. Provide information as opposed to agenda driven news. Magazines survived for years. Why? Not because they were the first on the stands with stories about yesterday’s fire. No. It is because they took the fire apart and looked behind the scenes at why the owner torched his establishment. In other words they gave out a product that drew people’s interest. Think of something like the BP. Barry started this for stuff that interested him and built a huge following through affiliation

  20. V says:

    If all the newspapers have to implement this solution at once, how is this different from the establishment of a cartel?
    Perhaps there are media outlets out there who have the physical/online balance right and can have a profitable site funded through online advertising or other creative means? Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.

  21. cvienne says:

    I actually like the micropayments idea.

    I think it would be more handliy operated as a a PRE-PAY system…

    Where one would, say, debit $10 upfront, and their account was charged pennies on the increment.

    Just think, with all the PREPAYMENTS, the newspapers could inwest in the new bull equity markets (like some pension fund), and have content for all eternity!

    My only “worry” about all of the things mentioned would be that I’m sure some pirating would end up happening vis a vis the music or movie industries…

  22. beaufou says:

    I also like the micropayments,
    it gives you a choice rather than pay to open the whole thing.

    You wouldn’t want to subsidize Friedman’s weekly turds, now would you.

  23. mars10 says:

    The problem with the micro-payment model is that it requires micro-decisions. If most of my daily reading required all these little economic value judgments, I’d go nuts! I’m happy to pay for good content, but only on a per-month or per-year unlimited access subscription basis. Each decision to spend money, no matter how small the amount, is stressful. People who advocate micro-payment models overlook this psychological fact. (This is also why I will not buy a Kindle or similar device until a Netflix-like subscription model is offered.)

  24. CTB says:

    1. Nobody has perfected micropayments yet. They need an internet or affiliate-wide micropayment system, so that you don’t need to track several balances at once. Ideally, it would have a ceiling on what you’d pay per month (similar to a gift card).

    2. Copying content is easy. You need to play up the first sources of information based on credibility. People trust blogs. It won’t work if blog authors are the few that pay. This probably means bringing bloggers under your umbrella as an revenue-sharing affiliate. It probably also needs copyright enforcement.

    3. Information ages quickly. The payment system should be highest for the freshest news. It should decay quickly, to where old archives are practically free.

  25. Jaime says:

    I see problems with this plan.

    You say at 6 months introduce micro payments for select content. Do you mean 6 months from subscriber date, or 6 months from when the website introduced the “must register” function on the site?

    Let’s assume you meant 6 months from subscriber date -
    As you stated in your article, people are used to free and don’t think they need to pay for new products.
    If this is the case(and I do believe it is), most users will just register again in 6 months with a different email address. I personally have 3 email addresses right now(school, work, personal), and I can create another in a quick 2-3 minutes. That leaves me the possibility of 18 months FREE content. When those 18 months are up, head over to gmail/yahoo/wherever and create another account for another 6 months.

    Let’s assume you meant 6 months from the date the website introduced the “must register” function-
    Let’s say a website introduces this function in January. In July they’re starting a micropayment system. People who register anytime between Feb – June get less free content, and less of a time to build a relationship with a customer. Even worse, people who register after June are thrown into the micropayment system to start with. This will turn consumers off and they will go elsewhere to get content as the internet provides endless alternatives to consumption for cheaper aka free.

    I think the problem with your plan is you assume after six months, a consumer is automatically going to be loyal to a website/company and be willing to pay for it’s services. This isn’t the case, as consumer loyalty is based on more than price. (see facebook/myspace) Myspace came out first and its free, however people left it in droves when facebook came out, and it was also free. User experience, service, quality, these things still matter in the digital age. I think…

  26. I am a huge proponent of micropayments. However, I think the model works only if payment is near frictionless. Thus, if a registered reader clicks “Read More,” the host will automatically debit their Paypal or charge the credit card on file. Basically, it has to also feel free …

    For those interested, top sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson (Hugo Award Winner) wrote a book “Snow Crash” in which he envisions a future where the Library of Congress becomes a clearing house for all digital content and collects micropayments (and distributes royalties) for the use of all copyrighted material (print, pics, music, etc.). It’s definitely an interesting thought …

  27. IdahoSpud says:

    Barry,

    I don’t know if we should leave:

    “the discussion of how the media became neutered corporate toadies, toothless shells of their former selves, for another day”

    Because that is the *real* reason nobody will spend a dime on these Orwellian outlets for their content. Until they correct the issue of garbage content, they won’t make a profit selling fluff/spin as “the news”.

    You, Barry, as well as Dean Baker, and Calculated Risk, have been correctly throwing the bullsh*t flag on these mouthpieces for spreading their economic nonsense. TV is no better. Plenty of commenters in your own blog think CNBC is nothing but positive-spin garbage.

    In the political realm, Glenn Greenwald rightly hammers old-media editorial authors for their pieces that contend that it’s OK for the previous and current administrations to subvert Constitutional liberties.

    I view news organizations (not just newspapers) in a similar light as the Big 3 automakers when the Japanese compacts arrived in the 1970s. They can either compete on the new terms (competence) and survive, or stumble on as zombies for a while before being buried.

    Either way it doesn’t much matter, because their reporters (if competent) will move online, survive and thrive based on the merit of their content. The internet is leveling the playing field, much to the disadvantage of the legacy media outfits with captive audiences and poor content.

  28. The newspapers will never be saved.
    They had their monopoly and just like the big banks, they shit in their own bed.
    If, as was said earlier, they would do in depth analysis and not spit out gov pablum there might be a slim chance of survival, but since the same MBA pukes that are running our businesses in the ground, run the papers now, I really can’t see that happening.
    As for paying for content, not this chump.

  29. IdahoSpud says:

    BTW I view it as a somewhat tacit acknowledgement of my “garbage as content” theory that Ben Stein recently lost his column at the NYT.

    On an unhappier note, it was all but impossible to overlook the fact that he was among the most eggregious of the sloppy thinkers writing columns at a major news outfit.

  30. constantnormal says:

    Sadly, you completely missed the most important item:

    MAKE THE CONTENT WORTH READING

    I used to subscribe (i.e., pay for) both the online and paper editions of the WSJ. But after the Murdock takeover (I’m not saying this caused the decline, merely noting a correlative date), a large number of their better writers and columnists left the paper, and it began a series of makeovers that brought it closer to a financial USA Today.

    I didn’t like it, and dropped my paper subscription. A year later, and I’m contemplating doing the same with the on-line edition.

    The fact is that most daily newspapers aren’t worth the time it takes to read them. Ensuring that readers are forced to pay for every item they read is only going to marginalize the papers, as there are many places where one can go to get “the news” these days. It’s not like the pre-Gutenberg days, when tight controls existed on getting written content into mass distribution. Today we have radio, TV, the web … while most newspapers rely mainly on vacuous snippets of text that are mass-marketed to the “news media” by the AP and others of that ilk.

    Meanwhile, the print media remains one of the higher-compensated industries out there (ignoring the poster children for overcompensation, the financial and health care industries). More often than not, the people in charge of the carious sections of a newspaper have little expertise or knowledge in those areas, and the published content reflect this.

    If newspapers and magazines do not get better at their craft, locking readers into paying for substandard content will only hasten the demise of the industry.

  31. constantnormal says:

    addendum: my previous comment applied as well to the television industry.

  32. rdavis says:

    Bad ideas, all, Barry. Too few would pay for the crappy content they’re getting now. Let these corporate monopolies die. Time for a renewal of local journalism. Newspaper journalists blame everybody and everything but themselves. Fact is, it’s the content, stupid. Newspapers once thrived under free market capitalism. Now they’re corporate, bureaucratic, politically correct socialists, and they ain’t worth a damn. Good riddance.

  33. leftback says:

    Newspapers are doomed. Profits are down, and you get what you pay for. The industry has become a real talent vacuum and the low point was reached when that guy at NYT was caught making up stories. (He should have worked on the sell-side and been paid handsomely). No-one is going to pay to read stuff by second- and third-rate writers, especially in a down economy. Television is beginning to follow the same path, and eventually someone will break the cable industry’s monopolistic grip.

    Magazines may survive as things to do on the train, and some local rags may make it, but by and large it’s over. Media people in New York don’t get it, they still think they are the organ of the masses, but they are just organs.

  34. Onlooker from Troy says:

    I think that there would be continuous undercutting by new upstarts that would provide free content. Kind of like the airline industry, but much worse because the barriers to entry are so small. So there would be a continuous grinding up and spitting out of news sources as the competition ate each other up.

    Yes, a very few might be able to attract a paying customer base because of a stellar reputation for news coverage and credibility. But they wouldn’t be able to charge very much without losing people. So I don’t know how viable it would be in the end. It’s an endlessly vexing problem.

  35. Onlooker from Troy says:

    Indeed I think that news reporting is doomed to be a very low paying career field because of this.

  36. Maybe the newspapers should had saved their profits and used the interest from investing them to fund their expenses instead of leveraging their companies to the hilt so that they couldn’t afford to create a quality product. Then they could afford to compete with zero cost advertisers like google when they came along and you wouldn’t have to read the jumbled mess that I just wrote. Too bad for that suckers!

    And here is what we paranoid conspiracy nuts think about sometimes. This just came to me today. Can you imagine if America, or the world, was taken over in a military coup by the folks at Disney? Yikes! What would it be like living in a perpetual state of Disneyland? Count your blessing folks….and pass the cotton candy. :)

  37. I seem to recall growing up without having to pay a cable company for our television and we didn’t have to pay for the shows either. Something called advertising covered that. What was that all about? Why has that model broken down?

  38. Niskyboy says:

    Journalists, and publishers who came up from the news side, may tend to believe it was their reporting and writing which enabled local newspapers to make money. But anyone from the business side can tell you it had more to do with the fact a newspaper was a little information monopoly (or part of a duopoly) within the geographic area, such that big advertisers like car dealerships, real estate agents, department stores and local government (for paid legal notices) had few other options. That’s not true today, of course, so the idea of charging for content on the local level is a non-starter. The only possible tactic I can see is to never allow obituaries to be viewed for free, maybe make a reader buy an online subscription in order to see them.

    On a national level, as long as we have the “Print Screen” function on our computers, which allows us to take an image of what’s on the screen and then copy it into an e-mail message or document, there’s no way to stop anyone from freely sharing written and graphic information with colleagues.

    Pay for some of the second-rate trash or simple rehashings that pose as serious reportage? Surely they jest.

    On the other hand, it’s always easier to make the bear case for anything, isn’t it? The major negatives are known and/or can be foreseen easily, but major positives often come as surprises. . .

  39. I’m just curious Barry. What are the bandwidth costs on a site like this? That is what it really comes down to is the cost to deliver product to your readers. You only have to charge more than that per month to get your advertisers to cover your expenses. Above that you are writing your own paycheck.

    [BR: When I was on Typepad, it was $15/mp; Once I moved to my own domain, and then had traffic ramp up to 2mill/mo, it went to $250 then $500 per month]

    And that is another point:

    Onlooker from Troy Says: September 11th, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Indeed I think that news reporting is doomed to be a very low paying career field because of this.

    I don’t think so. Because news is so ubiquitous on the web a journalist only has to light a fire with the public and he’s a household name. Have you ever heard the name Taibbi. Had you ever heard of him before October last year. Many may have but many more probably haven’t. That guy is a star now and is getting close to writing his own check if he isn’t there already. Of course, you have to be a great audience manager and know how to keep, hold and grow them once you win them but winning them is the hard part. Tapping into your ‘niche’ these days could mean a following of 10 million people without much effort due to viral marketing and popularity. How many TV shows would spend millions in marketing to get that kind of following for their shows. A journalist could do that in one day with a rant about government and how corrupt it is.

    A final point. I still believe that if newspapers can survive this time and keep their costs competitive they can actually do well in the market place. Why is that you ask? Because the next generation is training themselves to read because of text messaging and the internet(which is still a large part reading). I went through this ten years ago. Being a reader is just like being an athlete. Once you get into the habit it is hard to stop. I’ll bet if you measured the ‘reading’ part of people’s brains these days they will be larger than they were ten or twenty years ago.

    One thing I have noticed now is that anytime I’m sitting and waiting anywhere my first desire is to read something. It doesn’t matter what. My mind is now trained to keep constantly pumping information into it and when I’m not doing that I’m processing what I put in there over the last few hours or days.

    I think this is why the Harry Potter and vampire books are so popular. We are moving from a generation of watching (the TV generation of previous years) to a generation of reading/participation/debate. That is becoming second nature to these kids.

    If the news aggregators can tap into and grab the attention of these kids they should do very well. I think that will be the main challenge going forward along with survival.

  40. bdg123 says:

    How to save journalism? Why save it? Seriously. What do I need that is reported in a money-losing newspaper or television media? The problem is one based on content. If you don’t provide a service the consumer wants at a price they will pay, you go out of business. See ya!

  41. Onlooker from Troy says:

    “Have you ever heard the name Taibbi.”

    Common Man

    Yeah, but he’s not going to make his big money from journalism, per se. How much is Rolling Stone paying him? But he’ll make out pretty well with a book deal and maybe appearance fees, I bet.

    That said, there may be a few super stars who can get the big bucks for their work, but the vast majority will be replaceable at much lower wages which will keep pay down. And since the industry won’t be able to sustain large profit margins they’ll do just that.

  42. That said, there may be a few super stars who can get the big bucks for their work, but the vast majority will be replaceable at much lower wages which will keep pay down. And since the industry won’t be able to sustain large profit margins they’ll do just that.

    That’s just like the movies….for the most part at least (nepotism is creeping in there). The hundred or so stars make the big bucks and then there are ten thousand others that are making a career out of their bit parts and a night job at Denny’s

    Leveraging success and popularity will be key.

    As a matter of fact Barry, that may be one of the ‘industries of the future’: Viral marketing PR firms

  43. dwkunkel says:

    The Linux Weekly News (lwn.net) is an online news source that I have subscribed to for many years. It costs $60 per year for the current issue while older issues are free. The articles and comments are both worth the money.

    I did not renew my subscription to the online WSJ this year because the articles and commentary are NOT worth the money. As others have pointed out, the subscription model works if the information is worth paying for.

  44. Onlooker from Troy says:

    Common Man

    Yeah, I had thought of the movie industry analogy too. Seems apt.

  45. DM RTA says:

    Maybe, just maybe, this is telling us we need to invest less of our social capital in what we call media businesses because people are willing to pitch in and offer content that is valuable in a manner that serves their larger needs. And maybe, just maybe all that is really needed is better organization that focuses on what really matters….the consumer of content and not the stock opwner of the company. Maybe, just maybe Boomers running the public companies have very unrealistic and ungrounded expectations.

  46. [...] a blogger, Barry Ritholtz ought to be super-alert to one obvious consequence his proposal that newspapers charge micropayments for their content: that content will simply migrate to free [...]

  47. The Pale Scot says:

    I easily admit that I’m to paranoid too create an electronic trail of my reading habits; the creation of a mico-payments system would be a day ahead of the data mining process to develop profiles, and that would be a day ahead of techniques to acquire the profiles and ID the individual, which would inevitably result in some follower of Malkin showing up at my doorstep calling me a traitor because I read SADLY NO!. Unless you could buy the debit card at news stand using cash its a sure way to make a precise clump of bits in the great database in the sky that will eventually be used wrongly.

  48. skardin96 says:

    Publishing in general is in decline. It’s not just magazines and newspapers, although they do stand out like a sore thumb because they continues to rely too heavily on advertising income. Publishing people like to think their sell contents and hence that must be worth paying for but they neglect to recognize information comes in different form, shapes, speed and presentation. Even if they do everything right, they still need to compete against someone else willing to offer same/similar contents for free.

    There won’t be an easy solution to save publishing but I rather see them focus on selling a product rather than presenting informative that can be outdated the second it’s published in print or web. People whom spend money on things wants tangibility, collectibles if possible and not just reading info for the sake of reading (unless you are trying to learn new skills).

  49. Marc P says:

    On point 1, Registration: I absolutely refuse to let anyone track what I read, especially political reading. I’m happy to pay for good content if there is a way to do so anonymously. Of course the key is good content. My local newspaper reprinting AP stories doesn’t add value, and “journalism” that merely re-words a government or corporate press release doesn’t either.

    On point 2, Micropayments: Isn’t it amazing that with all the innovation in technology in the past 20 years the bank processing system is still in the 19th century? That certified checks are no longer considered good funds? That many business have a net profit margin of 8% or so and pay 2.5% to 4.5% to VISA? That I can PayPal you money far easier than I can do a wire transfer, and often cheaper? One of the essential objectives of government is to make the economy work more smoothly and with fewer transaction charges and other friction. What has the Fed been doing for the past 20 years?

  50. dimitris says:

    “Required” registrations aren’t, if they’re free. See Bugmenot. Other, more sophisticated methods that create an email on the fly could also be used.

    Now, what I consider the meat of the matter: The only content I’d pay for would be investigative journalism. Would a micro-VC type model work for funding that?

  51. Tom K says:

    “Pay one low price and receive free access to any number of sites.”

    I think this is a better pricing model, reserving micro-payments for truly exceptional content.

    There’s one big problem though. Good, fair, and accurate journalism is dead as a doornail. I know where I can get the liberal pov meshed with news reportage: the NYT, Newsweek, NBC/MSNBC, WaPo, NPR.org, etc. And I know where I can get the conservative POVmeshed with news reportage (but in far fewer places): Fox News, the Washington Examiner, Breitbart, etc.

    Advocacy journalism rules the day, and most of what we see, hear, and read is essentially opinion (cloaked in words like “analysis”). Balance, fairness, objectivity…all dead principles.

  52. as far as ‘leaving trails’ goes, it goes, and has for a long time, beyond ‘cookies’..

    ‘Web Bugs’ Are Tracking Use of Internet
    By JOHN SCHWARTZ
    Published: Tuesday, August 14, 2001
    Many people who have personal Web pages are unknowingly tracking people who visit and sending the information to third parties, according to a new report.

    The report ? which will be released today by Cyveillance, which tracks Internet sites for corporate clients ? says that the use of an Internet monitoring technology popularly known as “Web bugs” has exploded on personal Web pages ? especially those created free through online companies like America Online and Geocities, a company owned by Yahoo ( news/quote ). The monitoring technology, which can be used to gather information on visitors to a Web site, is invisibly added to the Web pages as part of elements that the sites offer to help create the Web page.

    America Online, for example, encourages users to place an advertisement offering a free trial membership; the company promises to pay users $50 for any new America Online member who signs up for the service by clicking on the ad.

    When users place the AOL ad on their pages, they also get a Web bug that passes information along to Be Free Inc. ( news/quote ), an Internet market research and advertising company….
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/14/technology/ebusiness/14WEB.html
    http://clusty.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&query=web+bugs

  53. Jojo says:

    Won’t work!

    How many links do you see people posting for articles in the San Jose Mercury News or the Financial Times? Practically none. Why? Because they require registration. As someone mentioned above, if you don’t get links, you don’t rank on Google and you are not going to get hits or advertising then.

    If people can’t link to content for a comment or blog post, you’ll see a lot more BS and rumor being posted as fact on the net with no way to check what is posted. Not that newspapers would care about this.

    Furthermore, most newspapers these days do precious little original or investigative reporting, instead just aggregating content from AP/Reuters and a few of the bigger newspapers. You want to pay for that?

    The WSJ online is one of the few relatively successful implementations of a pay model because reading that rag is a requirement on Wall Street AND the subscription cost can be deducted as an investment expense. If you removed them as an investment deduction, I’d wager that they would be in much greater difficulty as a paper.

    As for micro-payments, I worked for a company in this space some years back. When I joined them, they had been in biz for about 2-3 years BUT were bringing in only about $3k/month TOTAL in revenue from thousands of vendors who were content sellers. Their revenue REALLY went south (to the 3k level) when the VC investors told them they had to get rid of their porn vendors! Eventually, they shut down, flushing $25 million of investor $$ down the toilet.

    Unless some company is able to set-up their own payment system (and do you really want to deal with tens or hundreds of payment systems?) the micro-payment companies generally depend on the credit card companies to clear the micro-payments. But with the standard transaction fees and the % fees, the fees to clear a 25 cent charge is greater than 25 cents! So they try to get people to tie in their checking accounts or else get people to deposit $5, $10, $20 in a single transaction and then draw down from that balance. This is mainly how PayPal operates.

    Remember that ’80′s song “Video killed the radio star”? Well, the internet killed the newspaper business as it previously existed. May it R.I.P.

  54. smalera says:

    I proposed something similar a few months back. Essentially, it’s pay today, free archives. Except my expiration period from paid content to the free archives was no more than 24-48 hours, allowing the online conversation to keep rolling:

    http://trueslant.com/paulsmalera/2009/07/21/david-simon-and-newspapers-have-pay-walls-backwards-pay-for-today-set-archives-free/

    Have you seen how Facebook Connect works? If papers don’t wake up and get some form of this happening soon, registration and micro-payments will be yet another potentially industry-saving innovation that Silicon Valley steals out from under their noses, the same way search and cataloging was by Google a decade ago.

  55. Mbuna says:

    I have a different perspective on all of this- much of what passes for journalism these days simply isn’t and therefore much if not most of it is not worth saving in my opinion. There is too much that is owned by large corporations and the result of that is that news will always play second fiddle to profits. These corporations cannot be trusted so why try to save an institution that is simply not trustable? There is so much that is not reported here as news that should be and the reasons for it are political and corporate. I haven’t even gotten into the corrupt relationships between “reporters” and political and corporate figures on which they depend. I don’t need it and I don’t want it. I have absolutely zero interest in maintaining this kind of filtering of the news. Overall I say let it crash and burn, the same way that Wall St. should have crashed and burned this last year. I wish the government would finally wake up and let Wall St. slit its own throat and be done with it!

  56. Mbuna says:

    Here is a perfect example of why the current “journalism” should not be saved, courtesy of Chris Martenson
    http://www.chrismartenson.com/blog/throwing-caution-wind/27393

    Here we have the paragon of modern day journalism in the U.S. the New York Times engaging in shameless Wall St. propaganda. No, this journalism is NOT WORTH SAVING!

  57. 2cents says:

    Barry,

    I regularly read your blog, but rarely post or even read the posts. I just couldn’t pass this one up! I just can’t believe you actually wrote that! I find myself questioning the wisdom behind your regular posts at this point.

    You’ve clearly not thought this out!

    First, as someone commented earlier, I don’t want to be bothered about making micro-decisions about anything let alone what article I read. Micro-payments mean mega billing headaches down the road. There will be companies that micro-scam, just because it is not worth it to most people to fight 1c to 10c. The volume will undoubtedly make them rich.

    Second, if this were to become the wave of the future news, what do you think will end up driving the content? Bingo, what ever delivers the most micro-payments! If you don’t think we have the tabloid press now, you ain’t seen nothing yet! The value a newspaper has is in the local content and the less centric articles that look at things from a different perspective.

    There are other less important issues with your scenario, but I think that if someone is going to jump on another’s parade then they better have a different parade to offer.

    Personally, I think the days of being able to charge for news are gone. What newspapers can charge for is genuine original content.

    I believe the way forward for newspapers is for them to form conglomerates or content groups whereby you pay an annual fee to the group and you are entitled to all the content generated by the individual newspapers within that group. Ideally, you would want a local newspaper in that group along with a good business source, along with a good sports source, along with a good medical source, along with a good technology source, etc. Come to think of it I think this is what google news tries to do on a dynamic basis. Of course, if you want a paper version of any of those in the group, that would be extra.

    The economics behind this allows the costs to remain reasonable and low, while spreading the subscriber base out beyond the home territory. Furthermore, the key is to get the local paper to be your ambassador and your agent.

    Barry, I think you need to step up and admit that you missed this one! Not a comment in the posts, but a new lead article. Is there any humble in there?

    I’m not trying to seem like I am jumping on the first thing I disagree with. As I said, I regularly read your posts and find that I generally agree with you and your thoughts. That’s not always the case, but usually you take a position that two intelligent minds might differ over. This however, is like a bolt out of the blue!

  58. donna says:

    Please oh please oh please someone just give me my local news sources back without any stupid spin on it. Give me state news without the spin on it. Give me national news without the spin on it, financial news without the spin on it, etc, etc, etc… people don’t pay because they are sick and tired of someone else’s opinions being forced on them in every damned article, or the “balanced” crap that alway thinks there are two sides to the story, the he said/she said garbage, etc…

    Just tell me what’s going on without the crap, and I’ll pay for it….

  59. [...] Some workable ideas for saving the newspaper industry.  (TBP) [...]

  60. [...] Some workable ideas for saving the newspaper industry.  (TBP) [...]

  61. [...] inaugural edition of “Pens & Swords” features a debate between Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture and Felix Salmon at Reuters. These two top bloggers have differing views regarding how print news [...]

  62. [...] inaugural edition of “Pens & Swords” features a debate between Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture and Felix Salmon at Reuters. These two top bloggers have differing views regarding how print news [...]