But the secrecy and the resulting attention to the heavy paid-content focus of the meeting kept us from learning until a week later about Alan Mutter’s interesting presentation about ViewPass, a plan for a system that would allow easy payment by consumers across multiple platforms and extensive collection of data that would allow publishers to target advertising based on that visitor’s interests.
Mutter proposes ViewPass as a way to “access valuable content on the websites and mobile platforms of all participating publishers.” While I have concerns about all paid-content approaches (I made the Freudian typo “pain-content” in a tweet last night), and about the industry’s unhealthy focus on such a misguided approach, I concede that charging for high-value content might work in some niches.
I heartily endorse Mutter’s call for better collection and smarter use of data about customers. And ViewPass might be a great vehicle for the shift to more transactions and lead-generation that is the revenue approach of my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.
And I hope that Mutter was as blunt with the publishers about general pay walls as he was in his blog:
If you suddenly put a pay wall on a website that used to be free, you are bound to lose a substantial amount of traffic representing a considerable amount of potential advertising inventory. Once customers are turned off, it will be awfully hard to get most of them back, especially as plenty of free websites will be glad to welcome them.
You could argue, as Steve (Brill of Journalism Online) does, that some newspapers are doing a poor job of selling their existing online inventory. But the solution is to sell the ad inventory better, not to write it off.
This is another illustration of how the secrecy of the executives’ meeting was harmful. If they had invited reporters and bloggers to cover the meeting, some of the immediate coverage might have focused on Mutter’s innovative approach, instead of all of it focusing on the paid-content discussions that leaked out first.
I have been encouraged to comment on the distance between the American Press Institute‘s visionary Newspaper Next project, of which I was a proud participant, teacher and contributor, and API’s Newspaper Economic Action Plan, which focuses heavily enough on paid content that those words appear on the title page.
My time at API was one of the most rewarding times of my career and I value my friendships and business relationships there. Those relationships are strong enough that I can state my disagreement with them, as I did in a tweet when the report became public. I don’t care to go further than that.
I do, however, want to share some links from others who are writing about the issues in the news industry this week:
- Dan Conover, who visited Cedar Rapids last Saturday and plans to write about our innovation efforts and who was interviewed for the API report, calls the industry’s rush to paid content a “ritual suicide pact” in his Xark! blog.
- This post by Tim Windsor is a few months old but more timely than ever. He linked to it in a comment on Dan’s blog and I gladly remind you of it: Will paid content work? Two cautionary tales from 2004.
- John McQuaid‘s blog post, On newspapers and pay walls, shows the frustration many journalists feel at the lack of true innovation in our industry.
- TechCrunch took a mocking tone in its assessment of the API report.
- Steve Outing proposed some alternatives to paid content.
- Scott Nelson was disappointed with the heavy early paid-content emphasis of the API, but later found some encouraging ideas, as he recounts in Invest in the content, not the channel.
- Paul Bradshaw reminds us that the news business has bigger issues than free content or Google in How the web changed the economics of news — in all media.
- Daniel Bachhuber, a Publish2 intern with more wisdom about media than many executives twice his age and more, offers a plan of action in his Open memo on how to right a sinking ship: Value experimentation with new business models, redesign newsroom for digital age, change audiences into communities and products into processes, hire developers and go open source.
- At my prodding, Nick Bergus invited journalists to start a collection of metaphors for the news industry: lemmings, the Titanic, Humpty Dumpty. It’s quite a list, to which I contributed substantially, wincing at the accuracy of many of the metaphors.