Bring it on, Rupert

Considering how infrequently I read Wall Street Journal articles, its threatened plans to bring on micropayments would turn out to be a much better deal for me than for the Journal.

I subscribe to only because I think I should (it’s a legacy of my expense-account days) but I find I read articles rarely because I first go through The New York Times, the Guardian, PaidContent, TechCrunch, and other sources before I get to the Journal. Indeed, I never go to the Journal to see what they have to tell me today; I go there through links to articles that were in none of the above. That is how young people read the news today (remember: “If the news is that important, it will find me”). If I really want to read that article, I might make a payment so small as to be called micro. But I wouldn’t end up making many of them. The knowledge that I could read that occasional piece would give me the confidence to cancel my subscription. In this transaction, Rupert loses.

I did also subscribe to the Journal on the Kindle as an experiment: Would it become a habit? I tried reading it every day but, again, I’d already gone through my primary sources and I found it repetitive. I also have found that media coverage in the Journal has been way down since Murdoch bought it; my Kindle experiment only drove that home.

You see, the problem here is the myth of regular readership. When I started newspaper sites, I had publishers on my rear because they expected people to read them every day, just as (they thought) people read newspapers. But just because the thing plops on the front porch every day, that doesn’t mean everybody reads everything – or sees every ad. That was the myth that fueled overpriced ad rates and overinflated editorial egos. Online, we get to see what people really read – and what it’s really worth to them – and that’s a lot less than we ever thought.

So if the Journal brings on micropayment, I fear for them that they’ll lose doubly. They’ll lose my subscription. They’ll lose my even occasional readership and the ad revenue that can come with that. They will, in a cruel irony, replace digital dollars with micro pennies.