I hesitate to write again about newspapers’ insistence on finding a way to make paid content work online.
I’ve written that we can’t cling to the past, that we never made our money by charging for content, that we already know paid content doesn’t work and that people will find other news sources if we erect pay walls.
As David Simon and Ryan Chittum campaigned for pay walls in the Columbia Journalism Review, I considered jumping in on the issue. As the New York Times, which couldn’t get people to pay for its famed columnists, prepared to try again, I considered taking another swing, but held up.
What pushed me to write again was a thoughtful question on Facebook from John Newby, a true innovator whose DeliveringQC project was one of the more creative ideas profiled in the Newspaper Next 2.0 report (I initially noted here that DeliveringQC had closed. However John provided an update and it will be relaunching bigger and better shortly; see the comments for details). Here’s what John asked:
While I am on the fence, I have to ask – what have they to lose by building a paywall. If they continue as they are, they lose. At the end of the day, it is that news that is all they have to separate themselves from others. I’m not sure that paywall will accomplish anything, I’m also not sure it will hurt them as they get little revenue from that venture anyway. The only way you win is to try many options, failing at some and learn and grow.
What they have to lose by building a pay wall is the energy and time they waste on an approach that has failed again and again. This is not a visionary idea we have never tried. This is an approach we know from experience doesn’t work. Let’s spend our time and energy on new efforts. Some of them, like DeliveringQC, may not last. But we won’t develop truly innovative solutions by trying the same things over and over.
I am reminded of the movie “Tin Cup,” a weak attempt by Ron Shelton and Kevin Costner to recapture the magic of “Bull Durham.” The pivotal scene is where Roy McAvoy, Costner’s character, has a chance to win the U.S. Open by taking a safe shot. But he wants to go for a record and hits the ball into the water. He stubbornly tries again and again, demanding of his incredulous caddy, “Gimme another ball.”
When McAvoy finally makes the shot, for a 12, Shelton milks it for drama, but the Open title is long gone. Maybe David Simon can write a similar dramatic scene to salvage something from the paywall fiasco to come.
But it’s time for me to stop swinging at this ball. I will pursue the Complete Community Correction approach and try not to mention the paywallers here again. That’s not a promise, just a promise to try.