Posts about pay

On object lesson in walls

I wanted to read about the news that former online publisher Steven Brill, former Wall Street Journal online exc Gordon Crovitz, and former cable exec Leo Hindery had teamed up to to create a company to enable news companies to huddle behind a wall and charge for their content.

I went to the Wall Street Journal site to read about it. But the damned site keeps forgetting who I am. So I got just a few lines and yet another pitch to subscribe, nevermind that I already had. Even though I have paid for the Journal – the only site I pay for (for now) – it wasn’t worth the effort even to remember my username and so I went to the New York Times and then to Reuters and then to Paid Content to read the story (PaidContent, a blog, did the best job). I knew they call covered the news thanks to GoogleNews.

The irony is painfully obvious: A pay wall stopped me from reading about putting up pay walls and I had no problem detouring around it to read free (and better) accounts.

Therein lies the challenge to this effort to put together content cartels. It takes just one guy to ruin the party. Best of luck to them but I predict it won’t work. Once again, this will not only reduce traffic and thus advertising opportunities and revenue but it will reduce Googlejuice (even if Google can search the paid content, it will get fewer links and clicks and thus less juice) and it will bolster competitors. I blogged recently that a wag at a meeting I attended wished newspapers would do just this because it would put them out of business sooner and open up opportunities to replace them.

I don’t intend to pay – nor do I intend to charge. And, by the way, I have decided not to renew the Journal. I get more and better media coverage elsewhere. Today is just a case in point.

: The press release just went up. It sounds eerily reminiscent of the doomed New Century Network.

It also sounds eerily threatening. After saying that the company will “will be to negotiate wholesale licensing and royalty fees with intermediaries such as search engines and other websites that currently base much of their business models on referrals of readers to the original content on newspaper, magazine and online news websites” it adds that its hired guns include attorneys David Boies and Theodore B. Olson.

I’d also turn that sentence around: It’s the online news istes that base much of their business models on referrals of readers from search engines and other web sites.

(Disclosure: I remind you that I work in the link economy with Daylife and Publish2. In the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY, we will also flesh out pay models. My stand on that is obvious but let’s get real numbers – assumptions and ranges and experience – and have the debate in specifics.)

No Jan. 20 for newspapers

The other day, I was in a meeting of entrepreneurs who may well create a future for news when talk turned to the rise of the damned pay meme and one of the people in the room – who still works for a newspaper, for now – made a beautifully cynical gag, the kind we used to appreciate inside papers until they became hushed hospices. “We should start a company to facilitate micropayments and online subscriptions for papers,” he said, “and that will drive them out of business faster.” That’s one way to open up the opportunity.

The debate over payment has turned emotional, not to mention fact-free, unrealistic, and little more than wishful thinking – in short, religious.

Clay Shirky explains the conflict in just those terms in a wise post writing the history of the end of papers.

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply pointing out that the real world was looking increasingly like the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. . . .

When someone demands to be told how we can replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

But more are trying. That is the tragedy of the pay meme. ‘Oh, if only we can get them to pay again, all our problems will be solved. We’ll have two revenue streams again!’ Or then talk turns to the ‘shoulds.’ People should pay. We should have papers. We need papers. That’s the basis of the desperate ads papers are taking out, begging to be needed. Says Clay: “The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; ‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!’ has never been much of a business model.” Heartless, it’s said, but true.

Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.

Yes, and until we make those experiments and learn from them, the optimists – Clay, Jay, me – are also sounding vaguely religious: faith-based. I have faith that there will be a market demand for journalism and we will find the means to meet them. But we can’t get there until we try.

That’s why I was in that room the other day, the one with the cynical jokes. You know you’re amongst journalists when you hear them.

Other industries should not take comfort that this is all happening to papers and won’t hit them. It’s hitting them now. We are going through more than a revolution (or crisis or recession or depression). We are on the tip of an epochal change, like the one Clay describes from 1500, that is similarly upending every other industry and sector of society: the great restructuring.