Is it really so complicated? Every day for months now, I have heard newspapers executives discussing the “death” of the paper, and how something must be done quickly in order to save whatever is left. There are many different solutions offered but one of them is that all newspapers get together to no longer their content for free on the internet…! Seriously!?!? Is that the best they can come up with? The problem with that vision is that there will always be other organisations that will be willing to offer their news out for free. Why? Simply because through the internet, a media company can be run with almost no resources. A group could rent out an apartment, publish and write all of their content from there and easily make a profit simply through advertisements. The problem here is not the revenue structure but rather the cost structure.
The one example that seems to always come up is Newscorp’s Wall Street Journal, the much respected business/investment outlet. The WSJ has been very successful in its internet venture with enough paying members to account for a very significant amount of revenues. Many other newspapers come up with the comparison as justification for trying to switch to a membership model.
However, it seems obvious to me that there are 2 very major differences between most newspapers and the WSJ.
#1-The WSJ is by far one of the leaders in its field. It has proved for decades that in terms of analysis, reporting and research, it is one of the three or four best media outlets. That makes its content a lot easier to charge for.
#2-The WSJ is generally paid for by employers. This is a major difference of course. Employees and consumers might be willing to pay for it, but you can bet a lot of money on the fact that most would not be members if their employer did not foot up the bill.
I think any newspaper that fills in one of these two conditions can be successful with an online model (although exactly how to set it up is very much up for debate, depending on the newspaper and strategy). But let’s be honest, most newspapers that we hear complaining do not fill either condition. And when that is the case, then the model is not for them, it’s that simple.
Let’s not live in a dream, we cannot turn back time and go back to having no free news on the internet, it’s not going to happen. So I would really appreciate if the debate about newspapers’ future would be a little more constructuve…