Thursday, December 10, 2009

Free is way too expensive

“Quality content is not free. In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.”

Three cheers for Mr. Hinton, chief exec of Dow Jones. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

It really is time to get our heads around the idea of paying for online news content (the good stuff, that is). Digital content is where it’s at, but just because we aren’t paying for it doesn’t mean it’s free.

All the online news orgs have been trying to support themselves with advertising, but it’s not enough. Giving away good content is not a good business model - freeconomics just won’t work in the long term.

Smaller news organizations fear charging the right price could be their demise, but if they have something unique or of value to offer, why the heck not?

In Brett Arend's MarketWatch commentary this week, he highlights Talking Points Memo (TPM), a liberal online news source that is turning a profit, paying above average salaries and expects to triple in size by 2012. How are they doing it? By catering to a very specific niche market. They employ a focused journalistic staff of 7. They know who their audience is and what they come online looking for.

This demonstrates that the public IS willing to pay for quality content and news, and contradicts the popular thinking of free as a business model.

The current model has to change and there are many reasons why online news could become profitable and could actually raise the quality of the content. The internet eliminates costs like paper and printing and distribution services, and if realistically priced online subscriptions combined with a lean staff of experienced journalists providing great content, then why should news agencies not turn a profit? How could they not?

I’ve been banging this drum for years now. The internet began as a renegade information source, but things have changed. If news services don’t start charging – and realistic subscription fees thank you very much – for genuine journalism, not only will more newsrooms be reduced to tumbleweed rows, but the content we read will simply erode to tabloid fodder provided by people unqualified to deliver content worth reading.

And that’s not news, even if it’s free.

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