Lately, it seems like every day Romenesko has a link to a cranky old traditional journalist complaining about how newspapers are giving away their content online.
My question for Jim Romenesko: How come we never see the counter arguments highlighted in your blog?
No offense, Jim, but there have been bloggers writing articulate counter points. The traditional journalists aren’t getting the message. Given the fact that so many of them read Romenesko, maybe they should hear some alternative viewpoints on this topic.
The idea of charging for content online is pernicious. It’s the one online strategy guaranteed to kill quality journalism. The truth needs to be heard by the cranky old journalists.
- Stop the insanity: Paid content is not the answer
- Revisiting the free vs. paid debate
- One more time: people won’t pay for online content
UPDATE: Romenesko is funny.Â He links to this with nothing more than “Request Granted. Here’s your link.”Â Great.Â I hope enough of the cranky old journalists are sufficiently curious enough to click on it.
Nice challenge, Howard. Maybe the Newspaper Association’s Digital Media Fed. can start an e-mail campaign….
It’s on there now, although it’s not much of a promo.
Another post of yours I wish I had written.
LOL. And, totally on point. Thanks for carrying the torch, says this old, but not so cranky, journalist.
Howard Owens continues to promote the fallacy that the online product has minimal costs, since there are no dead trees, trucks, etc.
The numbers arenâ€™t the same, to be sure, but servers and other hardware, software, bandwidth, ISP costs, IT programmers and support staff, people to produce, package and present all that dynamic content â€” thatâ€™s all very expensive stuff as well, particularly to do it well.
Itâ€™s easy to blame publishers for being stuck in the past, unwilling to change, etc. But keep in mind theyâ€™re investing millions in the new infrastructure while still maintaining the old. So Iâ€™m willing to cut them some slack when they look around and wonder where the revenue is going to come from.
Itâ€™s all well and good to consider yourself a visionary, but itâ€™s a lot tougher when youâ€™re the one paying this yearâ€™s bills.
I never said at any time, any where in any way that online had minimal cost.
Delivery of online content has almost zero cost. Producing it is another matter.
Readers have always paid for delivery. Advertisers have always paid for content and the infrastructure that goes with creating it.
You obviously know nothing about me based on your statement that “itâ€™s a lot tougher when youâ€™re the one paying this yearâ€™s bills.” I’ve had all the budgetary responsibility you could handle. I’m well versed in this area, so save your ad hominem attack.
When you say publishers are “investing millions,” where do you think those millions are coming from?
They’re coming from current online operations. There is hardly a newspaper in the country today with any level serious online effort that is losing money. When you factor in all direct expense for online vs. revenue, newspaper.com sites are quite profitable (repurposed print content, of course, is still subsidized by the newspaper). So your “investing millions” statement is a rather hollow turn of phrase. The truth is, not enough of that online revenue is being reinvested into the online product at most major newspapers.
When a publisher looks around and wonders how to make money, he should stop looking for easy answers such as, “I know, we’ll bilk the readers!”
But the truth is, hardly any publishers think this way. Hell, not even many circulation directors think this way. Most are sober, level-headed sorts who know the truth. The cries of “the reader should pay” mostly come from cranky old journalists.
[…] I’m with Howard Owens on this one: “Lately, it seems like every day Romenesko has a link to a cranky old traditional journalist complaining about how newspapers are giving away their content online. […]
Your link at Romenesko brought me here, a cranky journalist since I started out more than 40 years ago as a teenager, though I try to keep my outlook fresh and young, no matter what the mirror tells me.
You raise provocative points, which serious journalists are very good at, but I don’t see much in the way of solutions at this blog, something which journalists are not so good at.
Since producing quality news is very expensive, just how do you envision the revenue would be generated to finance newsgathering? That is a core problem.
Based on public statements by several major news organizations it appears that the average cost of news in print for staff-produced newspapers is approaching $2 per word. There are only handful of these organizations as most rely on wires. They are the major generators of news, which others rely on both directly and to crib.
News does not float around as a free good. It must be made by gathering facts, often hidden facts, checking them and cross checking them and checking them again and then applying skill to make sense of these facts and present them in a way that people can grasp over a cup of coffee. And despite some awful cases of failure, every day the top print news organizations produce solid, fact-filled reports that draw many millions of readers and keep us informed about our government, our society and the rest of the world
The costs of producing serious news reports are much higher than $2 a word for investigative, enterprise and overseas reporters, especially in war zones. I would not be surprised if Baghdad coverage costs $25 per word.
Without a doubt online delivery costs are bupkis compared to pulp on doorsteps.
But nothing I have read anywhere indicates that online advertising revenues are even close to covering the costs of newsgathering at the serious organizations, and of course there would still be all those costs of advertising sales people, the IT staff, lawyers, etc.
Online poses, it seems (but I could be ill-informed), a serious challenge for advertisers who buy small amounts of space and get noticed as people leaf through the paper. They generate a lot of revenue and they buy ads because it drives business to them.
Finally, there is plenty of evidence from economics that we value that which we pay for more than what is given to us. As the father of eight I have abundant experience seeing this in action. So if people get their news seemingly for free do they care whether it is junk or quality, whether it is original or just riffing off original work? Will they substitute opinions, which are cheap to produce, for fact gathering and analysis, which is costly? And if opinions come to supplant serious news what happens to empiricism, to the idea that a democracy is based on reasoned action?
Perhaps payment for delivery has a value in prompting readers to extract maximum value for what they paid and encourages brand loyalty, which has the effect of strengthening the organization that presents the news. And, trust me, it takes an organization to produce every story.
On the other hand, there is also plenty of evidence that many Americans cannot get enough of the glitzmongers who bring us endless video, photos and gossip columns about Paris, Britney and Sanjaya, faux news that, like all counterfeits, is cheap to make and does not give lasting value. So, maybe, the problem is a waning interest in serious human issues in favor of slinky human tissues.
If people do not value serious news, what risks do we run as a society? Does it matter? Do we risk unchecked power accruing to government (and private institutions), one of the core concerns of the Founders who understood all too well the predation of the inconvenient individual by the state and the use of monopolies to benefit the few and harm the many? Do we risk our individual liberties? Do we risk America? Freedom and democracy were bought at an awful price in blood and tears over centuries, a battle still engaged in much of the world. History is rich with republics lost to power mongering.
So, please, solutions to the problem — how to finance serious news in an online world?
David, your comment got caught in my spam filter for some reason and I just came across it by accident.
You ask good questions, all of which I’ve addressed at one time or another on this blog.
Long and short of it is, we figure out how to make money online or we go out of business.
That probably would not be good for civil society.
Since we can’t expect people to pay for news, then we need to find otherwise to make money.
I’m actually not worried at all on that point. We do need to build bigger audiences online, but I believe we will. And I believe we will develop and mature various advertising revenue streams. And I think online advertising will become more valuable, just like cable advertising went from very cheap to very expensive in a matter of a few years.
As someone who was primarily digested news online ever since I became interested in following news when I was about 20, I can tell you that I would never pay to view content on a news web site. In fact, I normally won’t even go to the trouble of REGISTERING with a site to read its news. If a site has its content locked up behind registration systems, I just exit, go to google news, and search for the same story.
There is no successful business model for free content right now (paid content, yes — at the Wall Street Journal) — but arguing that us cranky old journalists should just accept free content are self-serving and irresponsible. A hundred more newsroom layoffs (25 percent cut at the SF Chronicle) announced today — what are we supposed to do, cheer?
You (bloggers) want to troll the Internet for free, quality content without hindrance so you can make money and/or attract attention and/or promote some ideology by commenting on the content. And then you complain and moan when the producers of the product you mine say, “hang on, we’re giving away the store for free.”
It’s akin to bitching out the farmer for his complaint that you now pick and choose what you want for free from his fields rather than buying it at the market. In this case, the farmer (media) is providing, for now, the goods for free, but that obviously is doomed to fail at some point. If the Web cannot pay for free, quality content (via ads or some other passive vehicle), it will ultimately disappear either behind paid sites or by being driven out of business.
I think this last comment speaks for itself.
Like many bloggers, Howard, you appear to take the easy pundit view. Everything, including this issue about free vs. paid content, is far more complex than you’ll ever even attempt to address. So, in other words, your follow up comment is really no surprise, just what I expected.
And you’ve offered real depth and insight, Scott?
What new facts have you introduced? Where are your new insights that I haven’t thought of previously?
Come on, Scott, if it’s so complex and you’re such an expert on the topic, please, educate us.
Just how much do you know about the issue? Let’s see, you say that WSJ offers an example of a successful model, ignoring the fact that WSJ is a speciality publication with a subscription model subsidized by corporate credit card payments, which is not exactly a model general circulation dailies can copy.
So just how much do you know about this issue you seem to think you know so much about?
You engage in straw man arguements (i.e., the “you (bloggers)” comment) which displays both a profound lack of understanding of blogging and my own experience and expertise in this field. Obviously, you’re not much of a journalist since you did no research into either my previous posts on this and related topics or my own background (all you needed to do was click the “linkedin” link on my own blog) before cavalierly disparaging my position.
Since you obviously know nothing about blogging, given your remarks above, should I even begin to take you seriously?
Obviously, you don’t want to deal with the fact that I’m well a informed and educated professional on this topic, since it would challenge your cranky old journalist assumptions, which you are obviously not prepared to give up. That would require too much effort, after all.
Scott, I just read your comment to my wife so we could tisk-tisk together, and it made me think of a couple of other things.
We already addressed the WSJ issue (not a good example for general circulation dailies, because it’s a completely different model), but let’s dig a little deeper.
You say there are no successful free models, but if you knew anything about the industry, you would know that online news revenue is growing rapidly. Free is working. It’s not enough yet, but the growth is there. Many top-tier news sites often sell out their inventory and national ad agencies often find it hard to place as much advertising with newspaper sites as they like (both because of inventory not being available, and because of the lack of a national network buy to make it easy for them).
In fact, many national ad agencies refuse to place banner ads on paid content sites because the traffic is so small compared to market size.
Our challenge isn’t to start charing for content (retarding audience growth) but to further grow audience (we’re doing well, but not well enough).
Thirty or so years ago, cable tv stations could hardly even give their advertising slots away, now owning a cable TV station is like minting money. It’s much too early to say free access doesn’t work.
Furthermore, in more than a decade of trying, no general circulation newspaper — not one — has been successful at the paid content model. In every case where reasonable comparisons can be made, free content sites out perform paid sites in revenue, in some case by as much as 10 to 1. Audience size is also always much bigger at free content sites. All statistical evidence indicates that paid sites (general circulation dailies) are utter business failures (with the possible exception of a couple that offer substantial content outside the pay wall).
There is no statistical evidence to support the idea that free content erodes circulation.
So just what is the argument in favor of paid content? Please, you profess to be an expert (by saying my position is shallow), what empirical evidence can you offer that paid content is the way to go?
BTW: I’ve run a paid-access for more than 10 years, so I have that experience to draw on, too. Pay just doesn’t work. Even for the WSJ, a case could be made that paid access has done more harm than good.
[…] If I still haven’t convinced you that paid content is a dumb idea, go read Vin Crosbie. Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]
Perhaps I’m just turned off by your demanding, in-your-face and self-righteous pundit attitude, Howard. (re-read your responses above) And I did look into your background, even up to your “I did this MySpace page because I have to” site. Nice.
I never said I was an expert but neither are you. No one is, obviously, because the free content model is, in fact, not working, and newspaper execs are scared out of their wits that the biz will soon wither to a fraction of its former self. So am I — for selfish reasons and for fear of how it will affect our democracy if media descends to offering scant more than cheap punditry that does nothing but froth a virulent audience. I have seen the future and it is Foxified, NewsMaxed, and Kos’d out. No thanks.
You talk about online revenue growth, but it’s a pittance (typically single digits) against print revenue and its gains are falling well short of print’s losses. I hope it changes, but advertisers value online clicks far less than inky hands.
I’m not a rube and neither am I opposed to free content online. Hell, I’ve been pushing for my paper to put everything we’ve got online and I’m responsible for our online video content — a largely unreimbursed service for our online readers (some of whom are paid subscribers, certainly). I often wonder why I support pushing online so much because the money simply isn’t there … I suppose I’m praying that we can ride it out and it will eventually pay off.
I see what free print publications offer versus subscriber-model print pubs, and there is NO comparison. The freebies are weeklies or monthlies, scant on meaty content and packed with ads. The future doesn’t look bright.
What I am opposed to, and I assume others who have taken your bait, is your rabid one-track viewpoint that ignores obvious problems. Attacking “cranky old journalists” (I’m 39) for questioning the free model doesn’t advance anything except your own ego, it seems.
What my position advances, Scott, is the hope, the only hope, that we can save journalism. Either we get online right, or we die. It’s that simple (or at least that is the only safe position to take, because the alternative (remaining print centric) doesn’t look very promising).
Paid content is a death warrant for general circulation newspaper sites. So, yes, I’m rabid about it, because the evidence is overwhelming.
There is no foundation to your claim that I ignore obvious problems. I address the solutions quite regularly — grow audience and improve advertising revenue and increase the number alternative revenue streams. Those are regular themes of my position. It is the only solution. Either we succeed at that or die.
The paid content position is, as I originally said, pernicious.
And there are experts — people like Steve Yelvington and Vin Crosbie — who will tell you as I do that the paid content theory is a bad, bad idea. In fact, I don’t know a single leading expert in the digital newspaper field who considers paid content a good idea.
For all your bluster and claims of empty punditry of your original post, you have yet to offer any facts to support your position.
As for your own job, you should keep pushing, because if you don’t, you’re news organization isn’t likely to survive. You have to build a web site people want to visit. Either you do, and your news organization has a safe place to land when your print publication can’t survive, or you do and you create a nice new business for your company should print survive (thereby strengthening journalism). Either way, you win. Because the advertising revenue will be there. I promise.
You promise??? What’s the deductible on your liability insurance, Howard? You got us covered? :-)
Your arguments are just as pernicious as your belief that we’re clinging to print like it’s the last chunk of the Titanic. Print still kicks online’s butt from one end of the field to other in dollars. That’s a fact. And to pursue online at the expense of print is a bad idea. I say pursue online to replace print, but we need to figure out how online is helping to kill print, too — and staunch that flow or find a way to milk online to cover those losses. It’s kind of like going to the bank with a $20 to get change and being happy to walk out with 40 nickels. That’s about how much online is worth compared to print for newspapers right now.
We’re busting our butts to put our spiffy storefronts on the Web. And we’re waiting for the flood of customers. Despite being mobbed by windowshoppers, it’s a frighteningly slow trickle into the till right now.
You might be surprised to know that my employer has a “product innovation department” that was around long before the lemming-rush to the Web, and has thrived pushing — wait for it — niche print publications! We’re expanding our print offerings! And making money off them and finding new readers! On pulp. Delivered by gnarly truck drivers. Spewing hydrocarbons (the trucks and the drivers!)
It will take a mix of it all, and part of it might include a model where some online content is paid. Why is that concept so frightening to you? Let’s see how TimesSelect works out. If it does, maybe it can be replicated elsewhere. You shouldn’t throw all your weight behind a free-only model just as us newsosaurs shouldn’t cling to the broadsheet only. But since you’re an expert and a paid consultant for online media expansion and free content I can understand why you push it so hard. Just don’t do print media a disservice by pushing us to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Howard wrote “Since we canâ€™t expect people to pay for news, then we need to find otherwise to make money. Iâ€™m actually not worried at all on that point.”
Rose-colored glasses and faith-based economics.
If you want a serious discussion, per the post you challenged Jom Romenesko to provide, then people who pay with their time to come here reasonably expect serious, thoughtful responses, not comments that border on the flippant. You need to offer substance, empirical substance.
Then again, you get what you pay for (Angela take note).
Scott, I’m not a consultant. Where did you get that? I’m employed by a newspaper company to run online content operations. My job is to do what’s best for my company, not to push an agenda just to get paid consultant fees, if that’s your implication. I consult for absolutely no one newspaper company and never have. (Though I have done consulting, long, long ago, for non-newspaper companies.)
Scott, there is no forward thinking in your position. I suspect that you haven’t studied disruption or innovation (I recommend Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma”). You say print kicks butt, but for how long? And it doesn’t kick Yahoo!’s butt, or Google’s, or MySpace, or Monster or Careerbuilder or HotJobs. And there are all kinds of disruptive content models bubbling up that are robbing us of audience and revenue. The “print kicks” butt position is the kind of dangerous thinking that keeps many print centric people from being as fully invested in online as they should (if they really want to save their jobs and their careers — but then it’s a classic “innovator’s dilemma” sort of position, the middle managers and employees who refuse to recognize the need for change).
Among the reasons that online newspaper web sites aren’t doing as well as they should is the resistance newsrooms have shown to supporting web operations until just the past 12 months or so. All of the effort going into beefing up web operations today should have begun a decade ago. Of course, there were those of us out there saying that then, but not enough people were listening.
I would also suggest that you’ve skimmed much of what I’ve written on this topic, since you’re offering up arguments that I’ve already countered.
And where to you get the idea that I advocate pursuing online at the expense of print? I’ve never said anything like that, and if you were really familiar with my positions (like having read more of my blog than just one post) you would know my strategy is actually really something very different than that.
It’s great that your company is creating new print products. So is mine. It’s a smart thing to do. But I’m not sure what that has to do with our discussion of paid vs. free.
Why is the paid model frightening? Because it’s doomed to failure. The only way we’re going to save good journalism is to build strong, robust web sites that grow audience. We’re not going to do that by putting up paid walls. Why is that such a hard concept for you to understand?
As for TimesSelect … put that search term into the search box in the upper right of this page. TimesSelect is proof positive paid content models don’t work. Go read Vin Crosbie on the subject.
As for David, obviously, you’re not reading very closely if you’re calling my position “Rose-colored glasses and faith-based economics.” In this thread and elsewhere, I’ve offered up plenty of reasons and evidence why online newspapers have a reasonable hope to make money online. Anybody who really understands the business would share the optimism. So, you’re welcome to your head-in-the-sand position, but your ad hominem arguments really don’t help your case.
[…] My latest fling at knocking down the paid content model was intentionally provocative and I shouldn’t be surprised that it riled a couple of people who see themselves as print centric dinosaurs, but I let myself get sucked into the debate anyway (read the comments — I’ll let you judge for yourselves whether I handled myself in a dignified enough manner). […]
All of these subscription content publishers seem to be teaming up on a portal called congoo. I see that they are giving people some free access to the thieir users and creating a critical mass of people to drive to their own sites since Google/Yahoo/MSN wont features their premium links. The site was just on the cover of PC World Magazine and the traffic is going through the roof! Hmmmmmm…I smell some funny business here.
Forgive me for assuming you were a paid consultant … being so strident with one message you come across as one and I wasn’t familiar with Gatehouse as an owner of dinkies and shoppers. I skimmed your LinkedIn profile, which isn’t completely up to date (you still living in Bako?), and was uncertain what your position was.
I don’t understand how you can be so certain that a paid content model is “doomed to failure.” Dismissing it automatically as a possible avenue to generate revenue seems to me to be unwise. I don’t know if it would work, no one knows really much of anything that will work for certain in online media. We try stuff. If it doesn’t work, we try something else.
What I know about where I work is that readers can’t get what we do anywhere else. Intensely local news. And I get calls and e-mails (and read cancellation reasons in circ reports) from people who say “I read the paper online for free” as a reason for ending their paid subscriptions. That’s beyond disturbing.
Do I have the answers? No … but I worry that a headlong rush to a free Web could be doing more harm than good. Doesn’t stop me from doing it because the consensus is that we have to do it and it will figure itself out later. That’s really troubling. So, long story short, I’m open to ANYTHING, including paid models, partial paid models, dancing for nickels in front of the building, turning our press into modern kinetic art … I don’t care. But if we put everything in your free basket, will it all be gone and we’re in a position where it’s too late to turn back. It almost seems like it’s already too late. I hope you are right Howard, I really do, because newspaper execs have bought your message — hell, you *are* a newspaper exec.
I will take your advice to read more on your point of view. But I’ve been sold on it for a long time. Now I’m becoming a bit more cynical and questioning as time goes on, particularly when people scream “This path is the only solution, and I have all the answers!” whenever someone pops up and says “Is this the right thing to do?”
And again (some of this has come out in our private e-mail conversations and not here), I’m not a “cranky old journalist” or a “print centric dinosaur.” Consider me a free agent.
And forgive my sense of humor heavily twisted by pop culture, but is Vin Crosbie’s blog title “Digital Deliverance” supposed to instill confidence in us “cranky old journalists”? “He sure has got a purdy Web site …”
Scott, I’m not dismissing paid content automatically. It’s a well reasoned position arrived at via much study and experience.
People are free to disagree, but I reserve the right to defend my position. I’ve always been one to listen to other POVs when presented with good evidence or sound, logical argumentation. So far, no advocate of paid content has stepped forward with either evidence (Mr. Hussman is the closest, but his evidence, when closely examined by me and others has proven to be faulty or questionable), nor an argument that is not full of holes.
Besides: the paid content model has been tried and proven a failure. Nobody has had success with it, so it’s not like, as you seem to suggest, “let’s try this cause it hasn’t been tried before.” It’s been tried and it hasn’t worked.
Finally, a word about congoo — this supposedly fast growing, international aggregator of news content can’t even crack 100K visitors mark (according to compete.com) and compares rather poorly with any mid-size daily you care to check against it. Here’s an example.
BTW: Scott, Vin has been doing this stuff a lot longer than me (and few people have). Is a lot smarter than I am about all of it. And is one of the most respected thought leaders in our industry.
He is, fwiw, a consultant now, but I wouldn’t hold that against him. He always speaks the truth, is usually right (I say usually, but I’ve never known him to be wrong), and always has ample evidence to support his assertions (compared to my tendency to sometimes just spout off).
Whether print newspapers live or die, there’s an online war for traffic going on in a million different markets and fronts.
The formula appears simple: as more people get online, traffic to various sites will increase. That will make advertisers happier, and so they will pay higher figures to promote themselves.
I’m no expert, but I don’t see a holocaust in media as Howard does, looming in the near future. Just looks like the media world is in transition…
I agree with Angela. If I have to register/pay for news, 99% of the time I will google the information.
The online world is so different from print. There are back doors to the information. Online entities should want to trap traffic, but not in a way that pocketbooks have to be pulled out.
By the way, I’m getting more popcorn and stalking this entry in case Howard and Scott come back for more tennis volleys…
[…] I’m guessing Romenesko’s links are the sole source of journalism commentary, particularly that of the future of the industry variety, for many, maybe most, newspaper reporters and editors. Print journalists, on the whole, aren’t exactly a 622-RSS-feeds-a-day bunch, after all. Fair enough. But the lack of alternate viewpoints generally reflected in Romenesko’s links on the future of our industry is downright dangerous given his site’s reach in our newsrooms. This is a crucial moment for newspapers, and we all need to pay attention to a diverse range of ideas and opinions. […]