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Archive for the ‘paid content’ Category

Of course, I’m blogging a response, but not much:

I’ve said before that I’ve grown tired of expressing my views about paywalls. That hasn’t changed just because CEO John Paton has adopted an “all-access” subscription project for Digital First Media.

While I don’t agree with the approach, I do have full confidence in John’s overall strategy and leadership of Digital First Media. Whether he’s right or wrong in this particular aspect of the approach, I think he’s right about enough things that we’re going to continue making progress toward prosperity.

I’ve been wrong a lot of times in my career. I hope my view about all-access is another.

I curated some responses from Twitter, with apologies for all the related media and parent tweets repeated (I blame Twitter, which gives you an option to omit those; I clicked those options and apparently they don’t work):

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I am no less tired of paywall arguments than I was when I sort of swore off them for a while in December. But I agreed to be on a paywall panel tomorrow at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. So maybe it’s time to update my observations about paywalls.

My basic view about paywalls hasn’t changed since I wrote any of the pieces I cite at the end of this post. All those pieces and this one come down to this: The potential revenue paywalls will yield isn’t worth the damage they cause. And they cause twofold damage:

  1. They divert energy and investment from development of forward-looking revenue streams with far greater potential.
  2. They limit your audience, especially among the young adults on which any business of the future must be based.

My update is simply to share some new information that underscores (again) those points. But I’ll add this point in the international context: I don’t pretend to understand the market dynamics or cultural factors that might influence the success of paywalls in other nations. My views apply strongly to the U.S. market and culture and to a large extent as well to the Canadian market and culture. My experience and expertise beyond those countries is minimal.

(more…)

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John Paton has explained why 22 Digital First Media sites continue to experiment with paywalls despite “abysmal” results initially. We also are experimenting with Google surveys as a revenue source. The surveys are bringing in more revenue than the paywall, but both are harming traffic, John says.

Last year I said I was tired of the whole paywall argument and would stop commenting on it unless Digital First made a significant move regarding paywalls. I don’t have anything more to say on this beyond what John said and what Mathew Ingram says about John’s post.

 

 

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I truly meant it more than three years ago when I said in this blog that I wanted to move on from the paywall argument. This issue and the attention it commands are perhaps the most consistent sign I see that the newspaper industry is stuck in the past.

But I keep getting sucked in. People continue making the same points on both sides and I keep joining the discussion.

Most recently Ryan Chittum of CJR has posted a detailed response to my post that criticized his ridiculous claim that the “war” was over.

This will not be a detailed response. I believe my argument stands on its merit and that it’s stronger than his original argument and his second argument and arguments no doubt to come. And I have better things to do with my time than persuading people who will never agree.

One point of his response deserves mention here: I faulted Chittum for not showing the work behind his estimate that the New York Times paywall is bringing in $100 million in revenue. I should note that he responded by providing a link in this piece to a more detailed analysis of the Times paywall. It’s not an explanation of the $100 million figure, and I disagree with his analysis, but I should update that he is now providing more explanation of the number.

I hope paywalls are successful for everyone who’s trying them. But I hope even more that someone (preferably my company, Digital First Media) develops a forward-looking model that will support healthy media in the future. If Digital First makes a significant move relating to paywalls sometime, I guess that might prompt me to blog on this topic again.

But otherwise, I’m leaving this argument to people who aren’t tired of it. I mean it this time. I think.

Update: Two comments say they are seeing a video on this post. I didn’t put it there and I can’t see it on my Mac on either Safari or Chrome. If you see it, can you tell me where it is and what computer or browser you’re using. I’m not sure I can fix it, but if you know how to fix it, I’d appreciate any help. And I don’t recommend clicking it. But if you do, please let me know if it’s related. Thanks!

Update 2: Apparently WordPress has started dropping ads into free WP blogs (probably notified me and I didn’t read it?). Anyway, I just paid to be ad-free. And yes, I appreciate that irony.

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Update: Ryan Chittum has responded to this piece in detail. He’s wrong on lots of points, but I am tired of the argument and think this piece holds up well.

An editor shared some paywall results with me yesterday. I don’t use unnamed sources lightly, but I understand why this editor can’t use his or her name or organization. It’s someone I’ve known and respected for a few years. Here’s what this editor of a small regional daily newspaper said:

We have had a digital subscription plan in place for a few months. We don’t even have 300 subscribers yet. It’s a failure. Even at the corporate level we’ve stopped hearing about paywalls. They know they aren’t working either.

I will be clear about one thing: This is not a Digital First Media editor and I will not disclose here the results of any of the MediaNews paywalls that launched shortly before Digital First took over operation of MediaNews last year. I don’t have those results and wouldn’t be the right person to disclose them.

The editor who emailed me is not the only person outside Digital First I’ve heard from who’s worried about weak results of a paywall, just the most specific and the one who contacted me this week. I’m not about to say that the current wave of paywalls will all be failures, based on this one email from an editor who won’t be named and less-specific comments from some other people.

I am willing to say that anyone who thinks the matter of whether paywalls will help news organizations find a prosperous future is settled is completely lacking in credibility. Specifically, the paywall cheerleading by Ryan Chittum and Dean Starkman of CJR is mystifyingly lacking of thoughtful analysis and skepticism. (more…)

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I call your attention to seven recent pieces about the business of news. I don’t feel strongly enough (or have enough new to say) about any of them to comment at length, but I’ll comment briefly.

Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review continues to pretend that paywalls are a panacea for the news business, saying that the Washington Post needs one immediately. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I’m wrong and paywalls are a good idea. At best, they’re only part of a solution. If they were the path to posterity, the news organizations with paywalls wouldn’t be struggling the way they are. Even if a paywall works, we need a lot more than paywalls, and the single-minded focus on paywalls is slowing the development of other solutions.

Mathew Ingram’s response to Starkman is, not surprisingly, much more insightful: “This focus on a paywall as a magic solution misses the point about the larger risks facing both the Post and the industry as a whole.” (more…)

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The next time you read the hosannas about the success of the New York Times paywall, remember these two three pieces:

  • Doc Searls’ detailed account of trying to find the actual cost of a Times digital subscription, a situation he describes as “bait and switch.”
  • Jeff Bercovici’s report on the “shockingly weak” advertising results of the Times’ print and digital products, causing a 60 percent drop in third-quarter operating profits.
  • Mathew Ingram’s analysis of the Times’ Q3 results, including the possible impact the paywall has had on ad revenue. (I added this third link after originally posting this.)

I admit that I might be wrong in my view that paywalls are a misguided strategy and that the Times is pursuing a backward-looking strategy. I admit that I don’t have all the answers about the right path to prosperity in digital journalism. But I know I am right about this: The Times doesn’t have this figured out either.

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I am pleased to see that I am wrong about newsrooms with paywalls or a print focus adding staff:

  • The Orange County Register is expanding with its print-first focus, Nieman Lab reports.
  • Josh Awtry, editor of the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colo., told me in an exchange of Facebook messages that he has added 2.5 reporters as part of the Gannett newspaper’s paywall strategy: “It’s tough to say exactly which positions were new and which were restructured, since it was in conjunction with a huge staff org chart rebuild. In the end, though, we increased net funding by 2.5 positions (that we funneled into reporter jobs) as a measure of wanting to show readers that, if we were going to demand premium prices, we were serious about providing a premium set of products.”

In my post about Dean Starkman’s views on the Digital First strategy, I said I was not aware of such hiring. I’m glad to see that some of these newsrooms are hiring. I remain skeptical that either a print-first approach or a paywall will be successful strategies over the long term. But I’m always glad to see news organizations investing in journalists and good journalism. I wish them both prosperity.

Also, Mathew Ingram of GigaOm continues the discussion of Starkman’s insistence that paywalls somehow provide stronger incentives for quality, noting that he “selects evidence that supports that argument and ignores any that contradicts it.”

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If nostalgia were a business model, Dean Starkman might be a CEO and his company might make tons of money.

But nostalgia doesn’t work in the news business the way it does for the History Channel. And besides, the good, old days Starkman wants to take newspapers back to never actually existed.

My initial reaction to Starkman’s latest rant for Columbia Journalism Review was that I couldn’t and shouldn’t address it here:

But Steve Myers helped me out:

I respect Steve a lot and I respected CJR for decades. I learned this biz in the old school when CJR was an important voice in journalism and merited a response. So I took another read. As close as I can tell from a piece that desperately needed the attention of an old-school editor, these are Starkman’s points: (more…)

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Opposition to paywalls is a “theology,” Rem Rieder said in moderating a one-sided love-session panel discussion about paywalls a couple months ago at the American Society of News Editors convention.

I considered at the time writing a response to the whole panel and especially to Rem’s notion that opposition is a theology (I come from a family of ministers; I know a theology when I see one). But I resisted the urge. I had other things to do, and I’ve written plenty on the topic.

The arguments before and against paywalls have been made extensively and passionately recently at the Columbia Journalism Review. Journalist-turned-entertainer David Simon made the argument for paywalls last month in a fairly short CJR piece and then his many responses in a long discussion in the comments, which I joined. I wouldn’t characterize anyone in this debate as theological, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call Simon’s argument strongly faith-based.

Howard Owens responded a few times in the Simon comments, then wrote a separate piece for CJR, listing 10 reasons Simon is wrong. He cites facts, dollars, page views and history. It is the most detailed, reasoned, fact-based analysis of the paywall issue I have read, certainly more so than any I have written. I will not try to summarize it here. But if you care about paywalls and about the economic success of the news business, I urge you to read it.

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A quick roundup of pieces I don’t have time to break down in detail:

Journalism and education

Ken Doctor

In The newsonomics of  News U, Ken Doctor suggests that news organizations can expand their community news and information role and play a formal role in education in the community:

As the tablet makes mincemeat of the historic differences among newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, we see another bright line ready to dim: that seeming line between what a news organization and what a college each do.

I’m not going to try to summarize Ken’s piece, but I encourage you to read it. I will respond to one of Ken’s suggestions for the news business: (more…)

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I have written perhaps too much about paywalls. I even sort of vowed once to stop writing about them (fortunately I hedged it). I think maybe I kept writing about them in hopes of someday expressing my doubts about paywalls as clearly as Mathew Ingram and Dave Winer did today.

Ingram cites three reasons newspapers shouldn’t charge for their digital content:

  1. “Paywalls restrict the flow of content.”
  2. “Paywalls are backward-looking, not forward-looking.”
  3. “Newspapers need to adapt, not retrench.” (more…)

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