Can metered content save journalism?Posted: August 21, 2012
Let me just point out how meters and paywalls change the objective of a newsroom.
Today, my company launched meters in four of its markets, including mine. Starting this morning, Ottawacitizen.com is free for print subscribers, 99 cents for the first month and then $9.99/month after that for all-access subscribers. (Here’s the FAQ on our subscriptions, and a note from our Publisher to readers. You can read about our subscription options here).
Rather than express my thoughts on metered content, which a) won’t change a thing, and b) won’t change a thing when it comes to our newsroom, I plan to take a look the long view. I’ll be watching how meters/paywalls affect the business of news – and how we practise journalism long term.
Because the way we’ve been doing things online – competing for page views so that we can gain revenue from advertisers in a pay-per-click business model – isn’t working.
A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading Ryan Holiday‘s great book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a media manipulator. In his book, he writes about how he consciously abused ‘the link economy’ to get press for non-events and non-news stories.
To simplify his major points:
- Small blogs are desperate for page views, and for content. The more they post new content, the more page views they get, making advertisers happy (and the more money a blogger earns)
- Medium-sized blogs will take content from smaller blogs, repackage it, and post it with links to the original post.
- Larger blogs – including mainstream-media – see content on medium-sized blogs and cover as a trend.
Holiday would never pitch directly to New York Times, he would pitch stories to the blogs these news operations followed. (Forbes.com has a great piece on how Holiday ‘Lied his way into MSNBC, ABC News, The New York Times and more‘.)
So what does this have to do with meters, paywalls and quality journalism?
A lot if you think about it. It has to do with the objectives of a news organization’s website.
If a newsroom is working to get a lot of page views, it’s simply a case of posting a lot of photo galleries, and celebrity stories. I can only imagine this is why, last winter, we posted galleries illustrating AquaYoga poses and NHL Cheerleaders.
However, once you’re working to please/increase subscribers, your objectives change.
In Holiday’s book, a news editor at the NY Times (sorry for the poor attribution) says that if a meter kicks in after 20 stories behind a paywall “That means we have to have at least 20 quality stories that readers can only read on The New York Times.”
Think about that in regards to this Twitter conversation between two readers:
@Senturion $9.99 a month...—
Justin Van Leeuwen (@justinvl) August 21, 2012
@justinvl I read it enough that it’s justified. I just want them to focus on Ottawa, not wire stories I can get elsewhere.—
Spencer Callaghan (@Senturion) August 21, 2012
Quality local content. That’s exactly what our newsroom is supposed to be focused on – not re-hashing wire stories.
I’m not saying that a meter and paywall will solve all revenue problems in a digital newsroom. I’m not expecting a money truck to pull up outside.
And I struggle with the concept of building a strong, loyal community – while charging for content.
But if it means we turn our attention to quality journalism – and not being page-view whores, posting cheap galleries and the latest celebrity gossip – I think that’s a good thing.
- Newspaper Paywalls Accelerating (ebyline.biz)
- Why the Washington Post will never have a paywall (gigaom.com)
- Crossing the newspaper chasm: Is it better to be funded by readers? [GigaOM] (gigaom.com)