Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

Paid-for content – an impossible dream?

The PaidContent blog has a good piece today on why the idea of charging for content might be a flight of fancy and impossible to implement after years of free access.

The post comes in a week that two media figures have been talking paid content and raising much debate in the industry. First there was CEO of Guardian Media Group Carolyn McCall identifying B2B and MediaGuardian.co.uk as possible future areas for charging.

Then came Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chief executive and chairman, who said he expects News Corp-owned newspaper websites to start charging users for access within a year. Murdoch is, of course already in a rather lovely position in that he owns the biggest subscription newspaper site in the world, the Wall Street Journal.

“We are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning. We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues in return for our shareholders… The current days of the Internet will soon be over,” Murdoch said.

Do you remember when Murdoch first took over the WSJ and talked about dumping the subscription charges? How far and how quickly we have come.

Paidcontent has a number of really salient points summing up the risks and challenges:

You can’t charge for abundance: basically news is done for, there is too much and it is not a premium, but you can charge for market intelligence and niche information the WSJ, FT.com and many small B2B sites do rather nicely.

What then does this means for newspaper sites like the Mail Online, Times Online and Telegraph.co.uk is anyone’s guess as they cannot charge for the bulk of what they do. Unless Murdoch knows something we don’t?

Paidcontent mentions databases – Americans talk a lot about this and the power of database journalism. Think things like league tables and other information people cannot get elsewhere are possible candidates.

—The genie can’t go back in its bottle: It says that because of 15 years of free content it will be tough to turn back the clock unless it is an industry-wide effort, but that means working together and that is not something the newspaper and magazine publishing industry does well.

—BBC News is the gorilla in the room: When McCall made her comments about charging for content she was answering a question about the BBC. Paidcontent points out rightly that the BBC, not to mention bloggers, is not going away and that it is ludicrous to suggest that the corporation’s remit should not extend to online. Whatever publishers do they will have to consider that the BBC is there with a well-funded site.

I don’t personally think that is an issue, as the BBC’s content is general in its nature and if the same content were produced by a commercial organisation I do not think you could charge for it.

—Advertisers would hate it: This is a question that has not been readily discussed in much detail by anyone that I have heard speaking on the subject. How will advertisers react to the erection of paywall barriers? Not with open arms, as they will see it as users being locked out. Paidcontent argues publishers need to be sure that the extra revenue that comes from charging makes up for any lost advertising.

—E-readers are a white elephant: Paidcontent has no time for the idea that the e-reader, which many publishers are looking at developing for, represents a new way they could charge for their content. The extra gadget in the bag that an e-reader represents has always been my main problem with Amazon’s Kindle and e-readers. Like Paidcontent I don’t think people want to carry around another gadget adding to their mobile, iPod and netbook.

—Even paid-for content is infinitely copyable: true to a point. Clearly bloggers take from the WSJ as quickly as anywhere else, which underlines the idea that if you are going to charge make sure that it is content that is difficult to replicate.

This is why database journalism (tables, charts et cetera) is good. Anything that basically comprises a bunch of words and nothing else can be ripped off in no time.

Read more on Paid-for content – an impossible dream?…

Groundswell around newspaper e-readers growing

I blogged last week asking whether there was a future for e-papers/e-readers and into my in-box pops an email from the Wall Street Journal announcing new e-reader plans.

 

The Wall Street Journal Europe has launched an e-Paper service apparently: “the new and fast way of getting The Wall Street Journal Europe”.

The launch follows comments made by News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch (also last week) who said the content giant was investing in developing an e-reader, like Amazon’s Kindle or the Sony Reader.

Other newspapers are also looking to go down the e-reader route. Earlier this year e-reader firm Plastic Logic signed agreements with the Financial Times and USA Today to sell and distribute a wealth of content for its forthcoming Plastic Logic Reader.

There are others planning e-reader moves as well. Magazine and newspaper publisher Hearst has also said it is planning to develop a Kindle rival.

Read more on Groundswell around newspaper e-readers growing…

Time for newspapers to start charging?

I’m pretty sure that digital bosses at the UK’s national newspapers are already thinking this, but as the managing director of Guardian News & Media, Tim Brooks, says in an interview today — quality newspapers are “not profitable”, is it time for publishers to reverse the trend of free content and start charging (again)?

Brooks, in an interview published today in Print Week, told the magazine that business models for the UK’s leading newspapers “do not make any sense”.

He said that due to declining circulations and the advent of online news, the quality press is being forced to re-evaluate its operations to make them sustainable.

“The real issue is that the quality press, in aggregate, is not profitable… The days when you can trade in just words are gone.”

Brooks went on to say that he will never launch another printed newspaper and has pitched the company’s future on multimedia and guardian.co.uk, announcing “All future investments will be digital”.

Everyone knows this will be a tough year for print and Brooks has not ruled out making editorial cuts (“I am not saying we would never make editorial cuts because in 2009 all bets are off — this is the worst year of my life in terms of trading.”), but no one in the British newspaper market has put it quite as bluntly as Brooks.

It is refreshing in a way to hear and adds to the wider debate about how the industry will pay for this digital future.

We reached this point a while ago, but in early weeks of 2009 the issue of giving content away freely on the web has come into sharp focus as the newspaper industry (not to mention publishing generally) stares down the plug hole.

It was never meant to be a hole. It was going to work like this — large investments in digital operations would pay off with large amounts of advertising revenues and traffic.

Well it half worked. Traffic for many newspaper sites like The Guardian has absolutely rocketed. Guardian.co.uk pulls in 26m unique users but revenues have proved less elusive.

I was thinking about this repeatedly over the last couple of weeks as 1) I auto renewed my £110 subscription to WSJ.com; 3) the rumblings continued over Google (again) following Robert Thomson’s comments; and 3) as the debate raged over micro payments.

Retaining the subscription fee of the WSJ.com was clearly a smart move by Rupert Murdoch, who originally said he planned to ditch it. Having seen the numbers, why would anyone throw away the cash generated by 1m plus subscribers?

As the digital news business desperately seeks a business model why throw away one that works?

It is the business model in part that Robert Thomson, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, was talking about when he let rip at Google, claiming the search giant devalues everything it touches, “Google is great for Google, but it’s terrible for content providers, because it divides that content quantitatively rather than qualitatively. And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.”

This is an old argument (not without merit) and the industry seems to go through phases with Google with a mixture of grudging acceptance and resignation.

It is certainly true that Google has not led to any riches for the publishers it works with, but in defending his company the head of Google UK, Matt Brittin, has a bit of a point (40% of a point maybe?) when he says “it is not Google that is taking advertisers away. It is consumers changing their behaviour. And that presents challenges for all of us”.

Consumers have been educated in part by publishers who gave them great content for free after early efforts to charge subscription models by the national press (New York Times Select for instance used to pull in $10m) and trade press alike, were ditched. Ditched because the future appeared to be an advertising led future, but (at the moment) it isn’t working.

As Gary Kamiya on Salon put it, it is leading in some quarters to “The death of the news” as there is currently no business model making online reporting financially viable.

From a business perspective, reporting is a loser. There are good financial reasons why the biggest content-driven web business success story of the last few years, the Huffington Post, does very little original reporting. Reported pieces take a lot of time and cost a lot of money.

And then there are the newspapers, including the Seattle Times and Hearst’s Seattle Post Intelligencer, who asked US lawmakers on Wednesday for a temporary tax, saying that some of the state’s papers are “holding on by our fingertips”, which brings us to payment and micropayments.

Much is written about this and I’m not going to rehash it other than to say there are some good pieces out there to read, both for and against. Walter Isaacson former managing editor of Time had a much quoted Time cover piece suggesting an iTunes-like micropayment system.

Others have joined the micropayments bandwagon, but as far as my 50 cents worth goes micropayments are a total non starter. I do not see it working. News is not like buying a track on iTunes. Music is something you own forever and news is pretty much disposable, gone in a day.

Take a look at Charles Arthur’s Guardian piece “The micropayments argument: do we want to turn the web into Zimbabwe?” it’s definitely worth a read.

So, if not micropayments it has to be some form of subscription. Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, gave this a serious airing recently when answering readers’ questions.

Talking about the lessons of Times Select, Keller said that the lessons of that experiment “was not that readers won’t pay for content”, people in the news business “don’t buy as a matter of theology that information wants to be free”.

He said there was a deadly serious discussion continuing within The Times about ways to get consumers to pay for newspapers’ content and they were looking at a list of options.

Top of the list is the subscription model. What he says he is key to whether newspapers can get subs models to work again and use them as one plank of a viable future.

“Times Select was not the answer, but it’s possible we just put the wrong stuff behind the wall. Maybe we should put it all there, or some different slice of it”, as well as pointing out one of the inherent problems with paid content, which is that it limits traffic and ad revenues because it tends not to show up in searches.

“But if web advertising takes a long dive — or if some clever engineer figures out how to decouple a paid Web site from the search function — a subscription model might be worth a closer look”.

I have no idea what the subscription answer is, but the idea of putting it all behind a wall (if you can solve the search conundrum) with a moderate annual charge is certainly once again an appealing one, but it would only work if this was an industry wide move.

And shouldn’t it be? If the economic crises has taught us anything recently it is that collective action is needed to save a number of industries. Why should newspapers be any different?

Read more on Time for newspapers to start charging?…

WSJ.com and Metro International

Two things in my in box this morning and they seem to be related. Rupert Murdoch has decided to keep the subscription model to The Wall Street Journal Online in place and Metro International is possibly putting up the for sale sign in the US.

Read more on WSJ.com and Metro International…

Could Google buy The New York Times?

It seems like wild speculation, but could it happen? Could Google buy The New York Times?
It sounds strange, but think back to those heady days of the first dotcom boom in 2000 when one-time internet behemoth AOL bought old-media giant Time Warner.

That deal went with the dotcom crash as power shifted. The focus of internet power has since moved and it sits with different kind of companies, with Google sitting proudly at the top.

The question is raised today by investment site Real Clear Markets. It points out the fact that in the last five years, The New York Times has declined in value by an astonishing 70% and rightly points out that as a newspaper it is likely to get worse.

The New York Times is not the only paper that has this problem, they all do to a lesser or greater degree, but with a recession, big or large, on the way advertising will be hit hard, as it always is, and as a knock-on result newsprint will suffer.

According to the post on Real Clear, at some point in the near future the market capitalisation of The New York Times will fall below $2bn and, at that point, the company will be in play.

Google always says that it is not about content, but does anyone really believe it any more?

The piece argues that should Google has most to gain from buying The New York Times and if it offered a Rupert Murdoch Wall Street Journal-like, no-auction bid of $4bn it would seal the deal with the paper's family owners (the Sulzbergers) having no option but to accept because other shareholders would snap it as they will never get another opportunity as good as that one.

If such a deal is not taken (and while not certain), it appears the future for The New York Times Company could be one of a steadily declining stock price.

The future for the New York Times is about to get even more competitive than it already is, as the aforementioned Murdoch takes control of the Wall Street Journal, the great rival of the Times, and Murdoch has that rival in his gun-metal sights.

Its argued that the Sulzbergers would never sell because they see Tthe New York Times as an institution. There is nothing that quite comes close in the UK, (The Guardian maybe, but it is not a family business in the way that the NY Times, the Washington Post and the WSJ were) and nothing that quite emanates the feeling of journalistic integrity (you could never imagine it going tabloid/Berliner) and seriousness.

And in that vein the family would utter "an over my dead body" before parting company with it, but as Murdoch has proved time and time again he has the pockets that other people simply do not have and they are deep and certainly much deeper than those belonging to The New York Times Company, which would need to do something very radical lest they bleed to death like rivals have in the past.

The argument goes that if the Times can not afford the fight then it can no longer, on its own, maintain that journalistic flame of excellence, which brings us to Google. It could snap up one of the world's top media brands for relative small change. Why would it want it?

Well that's easy. It is a fantastic brand with fantastic content. It does have that flame and it would sit nicely with Google, which has its own (derided) brand of ethics that it thinks sets it apart from the rest of the pack.

Read more on Could Google buy The New York Times?…

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