North Wind And Sun

Wall Street Journal considering micro-payments

Posted in journalism, newspapers by Ricardo Bilton on 11-May-2009

…but how much are people willing to pay for information?

The Financial Times reports that the Wall Street Journal is in the process of implementing a micro-payment system for its website, a move that raises questions about the direction that these companies are going.

Similar to what I talked about yesterday, the newspaper industry’s future really hinges on how much people are willing to pay for what they currently get for free. How much value do people attach to be informed? Information itself, I’d wager, doesn’t hold the same amount of value for many people as music and movies do, so it would be risky for the Wall Street Journal to expect many people to flock to their site once the new system is implemented.

That’s a key point here: None of these measures will create new readers. People tend to avoid paying for things. These payment systems, as a result, are aimed at the people who care most about the information they are receiving – professionals, academics, etc. The Wall Street Journal’s site is currently subscription-based, which likely explains why I, as a Poor College Student, have never read an article on it.

Times are hard. The newspaper folk are going to be hard-pressed to find people willing to pay for what the Huffington Post Offers and other online newssources don’t charge a penny for.

Going, going, gone – are newspapers on their way out?

Posted in Internet, journalism, newspapers by Ricardo Bilton on 11-May-2009

It’s rarely a good sign for your industry when the U.S. government starts holding hearings questioning your future.

But that’s just the position the newspaper industry finds itself in right now. For a variety of reasons, some products of self-induced gunshots, some not, the newspaper industry  now finds itself  struggling for its survival.

But Frank Rich’s recent column raises an interesting point, one that is, while sobering, vital in the discussion over where newspapers and journalism are going.

In the Internet era, many sectors of American media have been re-enacting their at first complacent and finally panicked behavior of 60 years ago. Few in the entertainment business saw the digital cancer spreading through their old business models until well after file-sharing, via Napster, had started decimating the music industry. It’s not only journalism that is now struggling to plot a path to survival. But, with all due respect to show business, it’s only journalism that’s essential to a functioning democracy. And it’s not just because — as we keep being tediously reminded — Thomas Jefferson said so.

His point is essentially this: While the future of the newspaper industry is in doubt, that of journalism, the raw product that newspapers commodify, is noticeably less so.

I draw corollaries to the record industry, which finds itself in a similar position. Robbed of their power and influence by the forces of the internet, the gatekeepers at the record industry are, like the newspapermen, scrambling to find a business model that works in this new and rapidly-changing climate. The record industry’s raw product, however – music – remains as strong as ever. In fact, it’s easily arguable that the music industry has been strengthened by the Internet. Pull media is the future, a reality that the newspaper and record industry folk are only beginning to come to terms with.

The simple truth here is that the Internet has become a force that vastly overpowers what established industries want to use it for. Information has a tendency to go where it wants, and with people sharing it, there is little any of us can do to contain it.

But that reality casts into further doubt the ability for any of the newspapers to survive. Just because information has the inclination to be free, doesn’t mean it should be. Giving away content indefinitely inevitably means suicide – that is,  unless advertising picks up the slack. But in today’s economy,  advertisers aren’t doing as much business as they used to – hence why so many newspapers are in the red right now.

Some see the future of newspapers – or at least their online portions – within the realm of a paid service, where users pay for access to one or a number of sites. The inevitable question, of course, is whether customers would be willing to pay for what they at one point got for free.

I’ll be honest and say that, yes, I’d pay ten dollars a month for access to The New York Times. But  how many people would agree with me? That’s the billion-dollar question.

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