Oct 232011
 

What do we really value online and can traditional publishing companies adapt quickly enough to save themselves?

Earlier this week I and a group of social media ‘influencers’ were invited to a briefing by News Ltd of their, two years in the making plans to move to Australia’s first big Freemium news content model. Basic freemium model – a range of teaser online news excerpts leading to fuller, more in-depth news stories behind a pay wall at subscription prices starting at $2.95 a week to $7.95 including the daily printed paper.

Ross Dawson, Richard Freudenstein, Tim 'Mumbrella' Burrowes - photo garyphayes

The basic details of the plan were dutifully and immediately blogged in traditional journalistic style by Ross Dawson and Tim ‘Mumbrella’ Burrowes (both featured above with Richard Freudenstein CEO of the Australian). But alternate opinions are surfacing from other online ‘influencers’ who were there – including Laurel Papworth (who just published a thoughtful Paywall for News.com and Online Community Social Media), Gavin Heaton (his tweet compilation) Tiphereth GloriaKatie ChatfieldCraig WilsonBronwen Clune and Karalee Evans. Some were feeling privileged to be at this briefing (in advance of traditional media – who of course are competitors so why not invite the ‘independent voice’) but others were confused regarding the actual value proposition being put forward.

Firstly hats off to the large News Ltd operation for taking this ‘if we don’t were damned’ and ‘if we do were also damned’, step. Also for setting up a no-mans land, bridging site, looking at the Future of Journalism. It is really the only thing they can really do at this juncture – so it all comes down to ‘how’ they do it. I and others pointed out during the session that regardless of the mammoth ‘back-end’ production, business and editorial systems upgrade, it really boils down to IF users like the taste of this particular flavour of digital content. Is there a demand for your ‘paid for’ product?

Some heritage news orgs are starting to turn the corner of this ‘experiment’ of course while others have just crashed and burned. Yesterday AdAge reported on New York Times just keeping it’s head above the water with it’s 324 000 and climbing, digital subscribers. It announced that, as it’s print ads decline by 10.4% a quarter it’s digital ads (up 6.2%) and increasing subscribers online are balancing the books, just.

Within the company’s news media division, which includes The New York Times itself as well as the Boston Globe and other newspapers, digital-ad revenue increased 6.2% — slower growth than in the second quarter — while print-ad revenue dropped 10.4% — a sharper decline than last quarter.

In a world of scarcity asking people to pay for ‘information’ or stories about themselves and the wider world makes sense. Get that. But in a world where digital, to a growing number, means free access, open re-distribution, self-publishing and outright plagiarism of those same stories, will ‘paid for news’ ever work?

Lets step back from the granularity of price points and production challenges covered by others for the moment and without getting bogged down in journalistic integrity or endless ‘manipulative’ stats, lets get back to basics.

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